NYT op-ed about effective debate

This article is a little old, but I thought it was excellent because it hits on a common theme I am seeing in our polarized society: an inability to effectively argue without getting emotional and demonizing the opponent. In this NYT op-ed, Adam Grant essentially says we are losing the effective arguing skill by allowing conflict to lead to anger. He starts by talking about how many collaborations appear to be purely cooperative, where each party involved contributes something in a harmonious way. In fact, many collaborations are characterized by extreme disagreements, where ideas are mercilessly torn apart and reconstructed by the participants, often using a combination of the initial approaches. The key is that these arguments during any creative process must be thoughtful – each party must not take things to a personal level. If things are framed as a debate rather than a fight, participants are less likely to take criticisms or disagreements personally.

I may be biased because I like to argue (I mean "debate"), but I also find many of the most rewarding conversations begin with a disagreement. Scientists are constantly bickering about how data are interpreted, and there are often no concrete answers about the best approaches to a problem or interpretations of data. However, these conversations do open everyone up to their own biases or potential holes in their interpretations, which generally leads to better decision-making further down the road.

I admire people who can lay out a rational argument on an emotionally charged subject in a calm and collected manner. Not only that, but the most effective debaters take the time to understand the ends and outs of another person’s position. To argue in a sense that does not create a straw-man out of the opponent, but genuinely attempts to summarize the differences in the respective positions, can help fortify your own position by understanding how the other person thinks and what holes they are most likely to poke in your argument.

Above all, the article points out that debate is messy but necessary for any creative solutions to complex problems. I think we can all take a few lessons from this piece and remember to not take attacks personally but, above all, try to thoughtfully criticize, as opposed to demonize, people that we disagree with.