In this course, we’ve talked a lot about seeking information to help us make good choices. We’ve discussed finding quality sources, how our brains play tricks on us, and using reasoning skills to interpret it all. In this module, the final module of this course, we’re going to talk about sharing our ideas while being mindful of the value different experiences bring to the conversation.
Although lots of us pride ourselves on being convincing, being persuaded doesn’t always sound like a positive. No one likes being convinced by a salesperson to buy a more expensive car or by a kid to stay five more minutes at the park. And just like we don’t like to be persuaded, when we enter a conversation intending to convince someone else to agree with us, we tend to frustrate them early on.
Rather than thinking of discussions as arguments we need to win, we should consider them an extension of everything else we’ve talked about in this course - discussions should be two-sided, with a chance to share, but also with a chance to listen. By talking to people who see the world differently, we gain more information and new insights. It can be a challenge to have a respectful conversation about a controversial topic, but the tips below can help you frame your thoughts and words.
When you’ve spent time thoughtfully forming an opinion, it’s natural to want to share. As a result, when we listen to others, we tend to listen to reply rather than to understand. Before you start thinking about a witty rebuttal for someone else’s opinion, make sure you take the time to be an active listener.
You can do this by asking clarifying questions and by paraphrasing what we hear. Consider the following sentence starters.
By taking the time to listen actively, you’re showing the person you’re talking to that you care about their thoughts and feelings. You’re also learning about their perspective, which could help contribute new information to your own views.
After you’ve taken the time to listen to your partner, you can share your own opinions by responding to what you’ve heard. It’s okay to agree or disagree with what they’ve said, but remember to express your opinions respectfully. Here are a few sentence starters you can try.
In each of these examples, you reiterate your active listening by connecting your own thoughts to your partner’s. You still get to share your opinions, but you do it in a way that is courteous and focused on mutual respect.
As we learned in previous modules, critical thinking doesn’t always lead to black and white answers. By being open-minded to the idea that it’s okay for our views to change, we can ensure that we continue to learn and take in information. It will also help us be more understanding of the way others see the world.
In the activity below, have a conversation with your friend. Think about the tips from above as you choose your responses.
When it comes to critical thinking, we often imagine a decisive process. We imagine researching a topic, forming an opinion, and making a choice. However, one thing that defines a good critical thinker is the ability to reevaluate their original view. It sounds like a pretty simple concept; if you learn something new, it can change your mind. In reality, it’s much more complicated. Sometimes facts don’t feel like enough. It comes back to our cognitive biases. In Module 4, we talked about sunk costs in reference to money and time, but sunk costs also apply to our ideas. Because we put so much energy into deciding what to believe, it feels like a loss to let go of old opinions, even once we start to suspect that they might be wrong. But changing your mind doesn’t make you any more wrong than you already were - it just gives you a chance to make a better choice in the future.
Maya Angelou is often quoted saying, “When you know better, you do better," but that leaves out an important part of her message. The full quote actually says, "I did then what I knew how to do. Now that I know better, I do better.” We all do our best to make the right choices. If we realize tomorrow that we could’ve made a better choice today, it doesn’t take away our good intentions. While changing our minds can sometimes feel like admitting we were wrong, it really just gives us a chance to be less wrong than we were before. The more we learn and the more critically we think, the better we can do.