Steven Covey in his book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, suggests that the best approach to resolving conflict is to “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.” 1
Normally in a conflict situation we dive headfirst into the fight, expressing our position without really paying much attention to the opposition. We may think to ourselves “Why bother listening to them, they are wrong, they need to hear my point of view.” But Mr. Covey’s suggestion is powerful.
By really understanding the person, or organization, you are engaged in conflict with, you have a much better idea of how to advocate for you position. You can discover the strengths, weaknesses, motivations and foundations for this different point of view. Given this information, you can better structure your argument. The first step is to pause and really understand the differences you are having with the other person.
In the last few pages, you have been given suggestions on how to persuade others. But just suppose that the other person’s argument is actually better than yours? As strong of an advocate as you are for a certain position, when arguing, especially informal and personal arguing, it is important to listen with an open mind. It is great advice to carefully listen to other points of view first, for not only getting information, but if you listen with an open mind, you might even find out that they just might be right.
Yes, it is actually ok to change your mind! It is the strength of a critical thinker to realize that someone else's position is superior, not a weakness.
I know this is hard to accept, but as a real critical thinker it is okay to listen to an argument, and upon realizing it is superior to yours, you can drop your argument and accept this new position. When in college, years and years ago, I argued for nuclear disarmament. I wanted all of the nuclear weapons in this country dismantled for fear of nuclear war and total devastation. Then I heard the argument about mutually assured destruction. The argument was that both the Soviet Union and the United States had enough nuclear weapons to assure the destruction of each other. Because neither country could win, there would never be a nuclear war. I found this argument to be more reasonable than my original position and so I changed my mind. I decided not to be dogmatic and hold on to my original position because of my ego.
Alex Lickerman writes in Psychology Today (Lickerman, 2011) his thoughts about changing your mind.
I wondered why changing one's mind is often so difficult. After all, both the world and our view of it are constantly changing; circumstances never remain static, so why should our responses to them be forever locked in their initial form?
Part of the reason, I think, is that we get attached to answers like we do possessions. Once we give an answer, it's no longer simply an answer but now our answer. Once we commit to it, we instantly become emotionally biased in favor of it, often even becoming blind to the shortcomings we previously saw in it ourselves. We become, in short, highly resistant to changing our minds because our answer has become part of who we are. And any threat to it feels like a threat to us.2
Let’s not get too attached to our ideas to the point where we are not willing to challenge them.
We will examine this aspect of critical thinking often in this book. But just ponder this; if you never change your mind then you will never intellectually grow. You will remain at the level you are now, forever. That is the sign of a dogmatic person. You hold on to your original argument for the sake of your ego, and not for the quality of the argument.
Covey, Stephen. The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1989