When discussions expose different positions and viewpoints, facts and truths can help to resolve those differences. But facts and truths can be helpful only when the parties to the discussion can accept facts as facts and truths as truths. Discussions that heretofore had focused on the issues at hand can become entangled in debates about facts and truths that aren't really debatable.
Barriers to accepting truth are many. Familiarity with the catalog of these barriers can help groups clear them more quickly when clearing them is possible using the tools of discussion and rational argument. As we'll see, some barriers can't be cleared using rational argument alone, and some cannot be cleared at all. Below are two examples of barriers to accepting truth.
- Newtonian worldview
- One of the more subtle barriers is a Newtonian worldview. I've provided two examples in recent weeks. One is in "Newtonian Blind Alleys: I," Point Lookout for May 22, 2019. Briefly, the Newtonian worldview includes the belief that a mechanistic model of classical mechanics applies more broadly in the world of ideas. Its consequences include the idea that a single concept or agent can explain whatever phenomenon is at issue; that a single counterexample can invalidate a hypothesis as an explanation for a given phenomenon; that an individual who provides heroic contributions in one field of knowledge cannot do so in other disparate fields; that someone who has performed brilliantly in the past in a given situation will inevitably do so in future similar situations; and that credentials are equivalent to capabilities.
- Many who Many who are adhering to false
beliefs are unaware that they are.
To them, their beliefs seem axiomatic.adhere to these beliefs are unaware that they do. To them, these beliefs seem axiomatic. Others can experience a sense of relief when these beliefs are questioned, because they do present a heavy intellectual burden, constraining severely the set of possible solutions to problems. People who hold these beliefs very strongly are unlikely to adopt alternative views as a result of a short discussion.
- In informal conversation, to be ignorant is to be rude, discourteous, or unsophisticated. And certainly those attributes can be barriers to accepting truth. But ignorance in another sense can be more problematic. To be ignorant in that sense is to be unaware, uneducated, or unschooled in the matter at hand, and in some cases even more broadly. To engage with people who are ignorant in the sense of unawareness about the truths of matters unfamiliar does present difficulties. It might be necessary to educate them about related matters before they can understand the points you're trying to make.
- And that necessity creates two classes of issues that might be difficult or impossible to address. First, unless the person seeks your assistance in completing his or her education, when you attempt to help with that project you might seem to them to be haughty, conceited, presumptuous, condescending, or worse. Offending the person is likely. Second, we humans have a way of filling the voids in our knowledge with imagination, rumor, or some other form of manufactured "facts." When we do, we rarely keep track of where we obtained which bits of data. It all goes into the hopper labeled "What I Believe to Be True," in a jumbled mass along with what-I-wish-were-true. And when someone comes along and claims that some of this stuff isn't true, we tend to resist. Dissuading people of something they believe — and who don't remember why they believe it — can be difficult indeed.
Are you fed up with tense, explosive meetings? Are you or a colleague the target of a bully? Destructive conflict can ruin organizations. But if we believe that all conflict is destructive, and that we can somehow eliminate conflict, or that conflict is an enemy of productivity, then we're in conflict with Conflict itself. Read 101 Tips for Managing Conflict to learn how to make peace with conflict and make it an organizational asset. Order Now!
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More articles on Effective Communication at Work:
- When we steer the discussion away from issues to attack the credibility, motives, or character of our
debate partners, we often resort to a technique known as the ad hominem attack. It's unfair, it's unethical,
and it leads to bad, expensive decisions that we'll probably regret.
- Presenting to Persuade
- Successful, persuasive presentations involve a whole lot more than PowerPoint skills. What does it take
to present persuasively, with power?
- Long-Loop Conversations: Asking Questions
- In virtual or global teams, where remote collaboration is the rule, waiting for the answer to a simple
question can take a day or more. And when the response finally arrives, it's often just another question.
Here are some suggestions for framing questions that are clear enough to get answers quickly.
- Virtual Meetings: Indicators of Inattention
- If you've ever led a virtual meeting, you're probably familiar with the feeling that some attendees
are doing something else. Here are some indicators of inattention.
- Ethical Debate at Work: I
- When we decide issues at work on any basis other than the merits, we elevate the chances of making bad
decisions. Here are some guidelines for ethical debate.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming April 8: The New Virtual Meeting: Digressions
- The bane of meetings everywhere, even before the COVID-19 pandemic, has been digressions. But there are reasons to expect the incidence of digressions in meetings to increase now. What reasons could there be, and what can we do about digressions? Available here and by RSS on April 8.
- And on April 15: Incompetence: Traps and Snares
- Sometimes people judge as incompetent colleagues who are unprepared to carry out their responsibilities. Some of these "incompetents" are trapped or ensnared in incompetence, unable to acquire the ability to do their jobs. Available here and by RSS on April 15.
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- The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power
Many people who possess real organizational power have a characteristic demeanor. It's the way they project their presence. I call this the power affect. Some people — call them power pretenders — adopt the power affect well before they attain significant organizational power. Unfortunately for their colleagues, and for their organizations, power pretenders can attain organizational power out of proportion to their merit or abilities. Understanding the power affect is therefore important for anyone who aims to attain power, or anyone who works with power pretenders. Read more about this program.