Point Lookout: a free weekly publication of Chaco Canyon Consulting
Volume 19, Issue 28;   July 10, 2019:

Barriers to Accepting Truth: I

by

In workplace debates, a widely used strategy involves informing the group of facts or truths of which some participants seem to be unaware. Often, this strategy is ineffective for reasons unrelated to the credibility of the person offering the information. Why does this happen?
Truth and Lies

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.
Ignorance
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.

These two barriers to accepting truth are examples of the more benign kinds of barriers. Next time we'll examine some members of a less benign class of barriers.  Next in this series Go to top Top  Next issue: Barriers to Accepting Truth: II  Next Issue

101 Tips for Managing Conflict 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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Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout

A possibly difficult choiceComing April 21: Choice-Supportive Bias
Choice-supportive bias is a cognitive bias that causes us to evaluate our past choices as more fitting than they actually were. The erroneous judgments it produces can be especially costly to organizations interested in improving decision processes. Available here and by RSS on April 21.
Two people engaged in pair collaborationAnd on April 28: The Self-Explanation Effect
In the learning context, self-explanation is the act of explaining to oneself what one is learning. Self-explanation has been shown to increase the rate of acquiring mastery. The mystery is why we don't structure knowledge work to exploit this phenomenon. Available here and by RSS on April 28.

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