How do we improve our dialogue? Rethinking is a start
By Steven A. Hitz
Originally appeared in Deseret News on March 29, 2021. Steve Hitz is a co-founder of Launching Leaders Worldwide. Launching Leaders, a partner of Religious Freedom & Business Foundation, has engaged participants in 43 countries on six continents through a faith-based personal leadership curriculum which empowers participants everywhere.
In a world of many voices, many of them on high octane, it seems the silent space between dialogue no longer exists. You know, that space where you actually ponder to consider another’s opinion before defending your own? That space.
We live in a precarious culture, with a cry for diversity of opinion and a hope for union diametrically opposed, but both yearned for. Conversations of give-and-take, back-and-forth, much like a tennis match, have become a game of aces only. If you can’t serve an ace, you pack up your racket and go home. Or if your opponent serves an ace, you pack your racket and go home. What kind of a game would it be without all of the plays between aces? So much of the game is left on the court.
In regard to this culture of limiting voices, we ought to rethink a few truths. Let me explain using this analogy of painting. We need to be able to put paint on the canvas of our choosing, while everyone else observing our canvas waits to offer their opinion until our painting is complete. We can’t color our lives with just three colors and enjoy the diversity of opinion and life we all seek. If we don’t mix colors, we don’t get it right.
Imagine if we could all have a full pallet of colors to choose from, mix them up in our conversations, and not have others take away our brushes or paint mid-way through the rendering. How many masterpieces are left on the painter’s easel, never to be viewed in their full expression or intended outcome?
I recently observed two very prominent figures debate over Britain’s Royal Family—one an American and one a Brit—considering Prince Harry’s and Duchess Megan’s decision to move forward in a different direction. The debate was immediately after their interview on national television with Oprah Winfrey. One voice was espousing privilege, and another racism and political suppression. One argued royal norms of protocol should have been accepted while another sided with their choice to not be subject to those norms.
What fascinated me was not so much the content of the debate—-but the style of the debate. No screaming or abrupt ending to the conversation if it wasn’t going their way. In fact, the most impressive thing of all was at the conclusion of the debate when one of the parties said something like “I respect your view—in fact, I am siding with you after hearing you articulate the topic. I could never have understood my own opinions clearly without you helping to shape the narrative in a different way. You have won me over. Thank you for that.”
Wow! My wife and I had the same opportunity to debate the same topic. I totally changed my view after listening to her respectful disagreement with my opinion and offer her respectfully articulated differing opinion.
We all have something to say—so why don’t we allow each other to say it? Whether you believe Dr. Suess was a communist racist or a defender of anything but those things, we ought to be able to digest the argument and make our own opinions. This is a crucial element of freedom that is being threatened in our current lack of respectful dialogue—wherever we stand on the topics.
I wonder if most of us don’t yearn for the same objectives; safe shelter, provisions for our needs, belonging and purpose, and a sense of identity?
In order for us to achieve these objectives (assuming we all desire these same basic things), and since we are at a point of not considering the space of differing opinions, I suggest we learn how to “rethink.” Obviously, this is harder than one might assume. Otherwise, why would we have protests that turn into riots and folks pushing to cancel lived history as if it never happened?
In his great book titled Think Again, author Adam Grant, a professor of management and psychology at The Wharton School, offered three steps to consider:
(1) Develop the habit of rethinking
“Most of us take pride in our knowledge and expertise, and in staying true to our beliefs and opinions,” observes Grant. That makes sense in a stable world, where we get rewarded for having conviction in our ideas. The problem is that we live in a rapidly changing world, where we need to spend as much time rethinking as we do thinking.”
When we are challenged in our thinking, Grant says we slip into one of three modes: Preacher mode—you marshal arguments and deliver sermons to prove the other party wrong; Prosecutor mode—you try to highlight the flaws in the other person’s reasoning; or Politician mode—you attempt to win people over to your way of thinking (sometimes irrespective of the facts).
Grant emphasizes the fourth and most productive mode is to enter the Rethink mode – where you allow the facts to drive your conclusions, not your personal preferences. Not unlike scientific studies, which test a hypothesis to conclusive results, our rethinking mode can allow this type of free and unbiased thinking, though over time it may change.
(2) Always calibrate your confidence levels
Sometimes we can become blind to our blindness and not recognize we do have blind spots in our opinions. Sometimes its pride, or tradition, or “that’s just how it has always been” type of thinking that limits our opportunity to leave our perceived confidence levels to move to higher ground. In allowing ourselves to calibrate our confidence levels, we leave the armchair quarterback behind (where we second guess everyone else’s performance) and stop suffering from imposter syndrome (where we present our confidence as if reflected by everyone else). Most importantly, Grant says, our recalibration of our confidence allows us to foster humble confidence, which is key to rethinking our opinions.
(3) Actively invite others to question your ideas
I’m an author, and asking my editing team to sift through every word I write is painful. While the editing process is painful, it has caused me to bury my pride and to realize that rethinking what I have written will eventually allow my true opinions to be further developed and articulated in a much better way. It allows readers to rethink also and to imagine differently. Rethinking allowed the Wright brothers to move from bicycle makers to flying the first airplane. It was painful for them to confront each other and question each other’s ideas. We need to remember that those who challenge our ideas are not our enemies and invite others to question our ideas and assumptions.
I believe we can shine light on our shared desires by embracing the opinions of others in a healthy way. We can play the entire game of life, and not walk away when either receiving or giving served “aces.” We can create masterpieces, allowing all colors to mix and bless the pictures we see. We can reestablish the sacred “silent space,” pondering before reacting. We can hone the skills of rethinking which allow others to either change our opinions or use this process to allow our original opinions to settle upon us. We can thank those who have challenged us for fostering the environment which allows us to either change or stay the same—with dignity.