You are wrong. I am right.

I read a great book recently called “The World Cafe; Shaping The Future Through Conversations That Matter” (by Brown and Isaacs). It’s all about a new form of dialogue that allows people to access a group’s collective intelligence, and was a fascinating read. If it all sounds a bit woolly, the principles are all heavily grounded in research and case studies, and I plan to try the approach out soon, and will let you know how I get on.

Andrew smiled at the World Cafe, safe in the knowledge he was absolutely, hundred percent, right

Anyway, one of the points that really made me stop and think was a passage around people fighting to prove they are right, and in particular pointing out that you may well win the argument, but in doing so, what has been the cost?

This seemed to resonate with me in my capacity as (former!) lawyer. It might be a stereotype, but lord knows lawyers do like to prove themselves right. Maybe it’s the type of people who are attracted to the law, maybe it’s the training and experiences that lawyers have, but if you put five lawyers in a room, I bet at least two of the five would argue black was white if the other three had already asserted that white was, in fact, white.

I started to think about this from two different angles. Firstly, developing the ideas in the book around the impact on relationships and individuals resulting from a dogmatic and “robust” approach to an argument. How many people have notionally “lost” an argument, and then (a) sat and simmered, wishing ill on the victor; and (b) not been convinced that they were in fact wrong anyway?

Given the turbulent nature of the legal market today, there are of course an increasing number of challenges that law firms and lawyers face, and if many of these end up in arguments and disagreements, what does this do to the web of relationships that underpins the organisation (which are of course critical in a knowledge-based organisation), as well as the morale and energy of those working there?

Often when a person expresses a point of view, if it is attacked, they will dig their heels in and defend their position more passionately, rather than take on board an alternative perspective.

Many of the classic negotiating texts (like “Getting to Yes“) are based on ways round this problem, and there is a heap of  research from the psychology of influence that can help explain this (Cialdini is one of my favourite authors here) – in essence society likes people to behave predictably. As a result many countries encourage people to behave consistently, and consequently once a point of view is stated, people will fight to defend it (and appear consistent) rather than change their mind.

This brings me on to my second stream of consciousness, which is based on a lot of Edward De Bono’s work around how people think in Western society. He aims a lot of criticism around our preference for “socratic argument”, where a selection between two competing ideas is made through knocking down the opposing viewpoint, rather than constructively exploring the issue and looking for alternatives.

In a law firm, where colleagues are often competing for resources, would it be possible to examine these challenges more collaboratively, or is that niave?

What if the disagreement is with a client? Or another team? Is the issue resolved with one party “right” and the other “wrong”? The dynamic is undoubtedly different from being across a negotiating table, but often the behaviour is very similar, and not everyone is a collaborative negotiator.

When working as an in-house counsel, when problems arose I was much less interested in pointing fingers, and more interested in sorting out the consequences quickly and effectively, working out how the problem arose (the framework in the book “Difficult Conversations” calls this assessing “contribution”) and then making sure we (collectively) avoided a re-run. I found this productive, and the external counsel took a similar problem-solving approach to drive a deeper relationship and more effective service delivery. I don’t pretend it was perfect, but I do believe it was an improvement on the blame game, even though I didn’t get as many opportunities to demonstrate I was right (which of course I was!).

I hope that has provoked some thinking and would be interested in any comments you may have. Please note however, that if you express a different opinion to me, you will be wrong and I will be right………

129 thoughts on “You are wrong. I am right.

  1. scott

    Nice one Mark.

    I’m just reading 2 books, one on Tao and the other on the inner game of work, and they basically talk abpout the same thing: the ego and the higer self. The ego thinks it’s big and clever when in fact it’s the whatever-you-wanna-call-it superego, self 2, higher self ect. is the clever one but gets shouted down by ego. If more people and lawyers (do the latter qualify for the fomer?);-) operated from their higher self rather than ego work life would be different and address your goal.

    I’ve used the world cafe, it works well if you ensure there is an appropriate amount of topics for participants. Also, having 2 facilitators if not 3 depending on the size of the group helps. Happy to discuss before you use it if you want or glad to help out.

    Look forward to being on touch, keeeeeeeeeep bloggin, Scott (apologies to strictly) 😉

    1. Intelligent Challenge Post author

      Thanks Scott – I’ve read the inner game of work, and anything tao related would also interest me, so we’ll have to compare notes. The issue of the ego amongst the legal profession would be a great area to explore – when I feel brave enough!

      I’d definitely welcome your insight on World Cafe and will contact you about that

  2. Sally Calverley

    Hi Mark

    An interesting and thought provoking article and one I would like to borrow, if I may, please for the Valuable Relationships Group on Linked In?

    My response is not nearly as learned as yours – and is based merely on observation. In training, lawyers learn (and yes I am one too) to think of all the reasons why a proposed course of action might not work. Then to find the ways of overcoming that. It is a two stage process and it takes time, in a change management scenario, to move from one to the other. The only way to do so is to encourage the creation of the first list of reasons why not as quickly as possible, in a safe and encouraging context. The key is to keep the momentum up and to move onto the second, problem solving list as soon as the list is exhausted (not complete, but the energy being put into creating the why nots starts to fade).

    If a firm becomes embedded in the creation of the first list and can not move onto the second, then it becomes stuck in the fear of what could happen, risk aversion takes over and the firm stultifies.

    As I say, not learned, merely observation…


  3. melancholiastudioinc

    Well, you have a lot of information here, I’m going to read it again and read all the comments again later. Can’t right this second, because the dog needs to be walked. There is not wrong or right in that kind of thing, which keeps me mildly sane, except I can argue with myself it I’m right or wrong to log onto the internet when she has to pee. Seriously, I think what she has to do is more important. But for the moment I’ll pass along something a friend of mine said in response to a comment I made that I have way less tolerance for people as I get older (he was 70 and a half, he emphasized the half, a joke, but I’m not sure I quite understood the joke), he said “Nothing really changes, [as far as the facts of any given situation] but you become more convinced as you get older, you are right and everyone else is wrong.” After a year or so of bickering with everyone on the slightest provocation (and no, I am not a lawyer, just tired and disgruntled) over anything and everything, I realized it was taking too much energy out of me, I didn’t care who or what was right or wrong, in fact, I find myself agreeing with people a lot lately, even when I think they are full of it. Maybe getting older means caring less about having pointless arguments. Let the argument go and get on with the conversation. Then you can figure out if it’s someone you want to talk to at all. If they just go on and deliberately pick some other bone of contention, that’s a clue.

    1. melancholiastudioinc

      “For anyone interested, the birthday present I requested (but didn’t receive!) was a Black Russian Terrier dog. A little known but totally cool breed!” — You will forgive me is I find this amusing. You have read every known book on the art of competition and negotiation from take no prisoners war strategy manuals, both corporate and military, to, if I am guessing correctly, How to Make Friends and Influence People, but didn’t get what you wanted for your birthday.

      If the Bertie in the photo was your dog (Bertie thinks owner is not partner material for lack of organizational skills necessary to keep said Bertie in an endless, continuing and always immediately forthcoming supply of dog treats of every imaginable size, color, stink, texture and odor) that is equally amusing as well, and more informative then you realize. Everybody likes dog treats, whatever their version of dog treats is. Figure that one out and you can throw out all your how to manuals.

      Next time you’re getting nowhere with a client, look musingly at a photo of a dog on your wall (better yet, a high end commissioned oil portrait) and ask them if they have a dog. You’d be surprised how the most buttoned up, ill at ease characters will relax and hold forth if they consider their own said dog more interesting and exciting than the equivalent of this years version of futures in pork bellies. George Bush’s Scottie got way more mention in the press than the then current foreign policy. And when things were going downhill for Clinton, he acquired Buddy. Sadly, Buddy was killed in a dog of the leash car accident, but I’m sure most people knew more about Buddy and his tragic demise than they did about Clinton’s stance on Mid East policy.

      You are right and I am wrong, but here’s a thought. Get yourself something you really hate for Valentine’s Day. One of those plush things, preferably with wide gaping blue eyes couched in long, jet black lashes sporting a hideous rhinestone tiara, with a red velvet heart stuck between it’s furry paws that says something totally ridiculous like “Wild Love.” Put it on the edge of your desk, in the middle facing the client and see what happens. Should you fear to do so on the grounds a display of senseless absurdity will completely undermine your integrity and your world will come crashing down on you, you will then have some really serious thinking to do.

      Absurdity aside, I found your blog interesting. I never thought about law firms from the side of sales and marketing of services. I once worked for a high end NYC law firm. It didn’t look for clients, clients looked for them and were gleeful if they could afford it (a point in favor of pricey hourly fees). It had its share of rainmakers, the guys who knew everyone and everything who spent their time hooking the fish for the junior associates to work for. I was there long enough to see what happened when they made a very big ethical boo boo and found out what it was like to be a firm that needed to be looking for clients rather than the other way round. Reputation is everything. To avoid being in the position of a firm desperate for clients (hey, guys, look, we’re still solvent!), they maneuvered to lay off anybody and everybody starting from the bottom in the mail room and gradually working their way up as evaluating the potential of low end associates and paralegals required more thought — they were bigger cogs in the wheel whose retention or dismissal would have a greater impact on the firm.

      Have a nice day.

      1. melancholiastudioinc

        You’re welcome, glad you enjoyed it. My dog could care less if I’m fine. I sent an email last week to a friend who said it was the funniest (although not finest, is that a Brit term?) email she ever got in her life. I’d switch careers and become a writer or comedian, but then I’d have to give up my day job as a starving artist.

  4. dearexgirlfriend

    anyone can ‘win’ an argument if they are more sound in their philosophical points than their opponent. think boxing – heavyweights beat welterweights. the key in arguing/debate is doing it with moral conversation, making sure you keep your opponents’ points of view in mind.

  5. Tori Nelson

    Very interesting post! I have found that even the most basic conversations, between family members and fellow employees, have been broken down into this competitive style of conversation. It becomes less about sharing ideas and viewpoints, and more about ending the conversation on a victorious note! Great post, and congrats on being FP!

  6. CrystalSpins

    For me this issuecomes up much more often in interpersonal relationships than it does in my working life,because if I disagree with a boss it doesn’t matter who is right we do as the boss wishes — and likewise with clients. But with friends and family I find were are very rarely arguing the same points even though we are vehemently opposing one another.

    For example, although my sister and I may be fighting about who should do the dishes this weekend what is really at play is that she feels disrespected and I’m annoyed that she won’t adopt my system for keeping track of who does what chores and when. And my solution of a system reinforces her feeling of being disrespected while her opposition to the system makes me even more annoyed.

    Getting on the same page during a fight is often an incredible struggle.


  7. Deanna

    My husband is a lawyer, and insists on haggling his point – any point on which I don’t agree – well into the wee hours of the night. It’s tough to argue with someone who negotiates for a living, but stupidly I try.
    I was interested in your point about how people dig in to passionately argue their point in the face of controversy. If given a list of reasons as to why my point might be wrong, I would be the first to admit I could be wrong. Do I lack the courage of my convictions, am I easy-going, or am I just a flake, I wonder. Or does my neutral position result from my journalist background?
    I’m definitely not lawyer material, one of those in any family is more than enough!

    1. Intelligent Challenge Post author

      Thanks for the comment. I suspect a neutral, easy-going approach is probably a good counter balance, and don’t think it sounds flaky. There’s a difference between being easy-going and not standing up for what you believe in.

  8. jaredblakedicroce

    Hey Mark,

    Very fascinating post. I often wonder why is it that us westerners feel the need to prove someone wrong, and someone right – as if it proves who has the bigger cojones? And why is that the measure of our successes, and not simply: who has come up with the best solution for all parties involved?

    I am perturbed by this notion, which seems to persist despite it’s obvious shortcomings, that there is only 1 right answer to a problem. It’s a thought process that’s reinforced in our schools, and the way we test children. It’s reinforced by our society, and the way we go about business. It’s just simply wrong… but its now who we are. How can we stop it?

    anyway good post, it really got me thinking this morning!

  9. rod

    Would you play chess with a poor chess player? Would you play basketball with one who does not even know how to dribble a ball? You wont because they bore. They do not improve you. I love people who challenges ideas I have built. They help me think about mine [I might be keeping trash, you know. Ideas should stand to all test.]

    Great post. But it is your smile that I think is greater. I don’t think I can make a smile like that. And I might try doing that in the mirror for myself. [It’s sort of “got you on that”, “I know something you don’t” kind of funny smile, I’m not sure. 🙂

  10. newsy1

    I’m constantly searching for my higher self but of course, my ego gets in the way. I think for some of us (me included) we are born to prove we are right. In my family it is called being stubborn. I’m always working on a way to tone down my need to explain to everyone within earshot I am right. Shouldn’t it be enough that I alone know it? Great blog.

  11. Crazy Eddie

    ” I bet at least two of the five would argue black was white if the other three had already asserted that white was, in fact, white.”

    But that would make those two doubly silly. First, for making a silly argument, second, for making a pointless one. Proving that black is white doesn’t disprove that white is white.

    IANAL. 😉

  12. Taylor V

    The blame game is often what slows down productivity, creates tension in the workplace, and is an ineffective way to lead. I’ve seen this countless times not only in business but between friends. I’m certainly not perfect either, but I agree with you. Moving past the blame phase and taking on responsibility (even if it isn’t yours!) is the first step to solving the problem.

    Another great book about this idea is Dale Carnegie’s “How to Stop Worrying and Start Living Your Life.” Thanks for sharing your thoughts! And congrats on making the front-page of!

  13. lifeintheboomerlane

    My observation of people (myself included, at times) is that A rarely listens to B, if, what B says is in opposition to what A believes. Instead, A is mentally formulating his argument and simply waiting to an opportunity to deliver it. After enough back and forth, A may seem to concede, but in reality is merely stalled for the moment. Later, A will think of a rebuttal. The bottom line is that neither A nor B want to learn anything or expand their thought processes. They simply want to be right. I took a workshop about 15 years ago and the group leader said most people would rather be right than be happy. Boy, did that resonate with me and made me realize I fit that description.

  14. Ian Webster

    Good work–and Freshly Pressed too.
    I’m a Christian and we tend to dogmatism worse than lawyers. In his book, The Rest of God, Mark Buchanan writes about the dangers of rightness over relationship.
    It’s a philosophy I struggle to implement but essential to survival in an ever diminishing world. Intimacy (the relationship AFTER the argument) is much more important than simply being right. I know that, but to live it out……

  15. Holly

    I find this very interesting, as I have been involved in some heated debates recently. I plan to purchase that book, so thanks! This may be covered in the book, but what about arguments where there is no possibility for a collaborative agreement or alternative viewpoints? If the opposing sides are completely contradictory, and if one must be right and the other wrong, how does one argue that they are right without using the Socratic Argument?

    Of course, I am not a lawyer and this is assuming that there are absolutes, which could be a debate all on it’s own 😉 Anyway, I’m just curious. The is a very interesting topic!

  16. Mikalee Byerman

    While this is an interesting perspective, and I can see its value, doesn’t it inherently contradict the fundamental underpinnings of a legal system that is charged with assessing right and wrong?

    I am facing a legal battle of my own. My ex is suing me to stop my blog. I am countering, of course, claiming that the blog is a fundamental first amendment expression right and is inherently tied to my professional success. A judge will determine whether he is right, or I am right, and issue a verdict.

    In a case like this, how can collaborative resolution apply? Mediation is close, I guess, but mediation seems to be about finding compromises from each side. I have nothing that I’m willing to negotiate, so how is that an option?

    Just curious about your perspective — both philosophically and as a (former) lawyer.

    1. Intelligent Challenge Post author

      Hi, interesting comment and good luck with the case! The post was really aimed at lawyers in their working life, rather than actually discharging their duties. The judicial system in the UK and the US is built around a more adversarial process, but in some other countries the judge acts in an inquisitive capacity, trying to find out the truth of what happened in the dispute.

  17. zephyrliving

    Fascinating read, and I very much appreciate that you shared your insight by blog. I grew up in a family that had one member, my father, who always got to be right. He maintains this one-up position to this day. I feel very fortunate to have been show there is another way to be in the world. I’m sure I naturally gravitated toward this other way of being as a result of always having to be one down if I was in disagreement with my father. The need to be right, and therefore self-righteous must come from a lonely and insecure and closed-minded place. Getting to be right doesn’t seem to me reward enough to reside there.

    I have been a volunteer mediator at Metro Court in my city for five years. I have been involved in the legal system as a consumer, I guess you’d call it, and I’d never before really understood what people said when they stated the system is broken. It is profoundly, irrevocably broken. Lawyers are tacticians and strategists in battle, and coming from that standpoint, coming to court to win, looking for loopholes instead of solutions that benefit everyone, is it any wonder? My lawyer is a wonderful person. He took me on as a pro bono client because he knows that a person has to have money to have any sort of “justice.” Yes, he gets paid to represent all of his other clients, but he sees the big picture. My experience with opposing counsel has been brutal, especially when I didn’t have representation. She cares for nothing but her bankroll and Gucci shoes. She is the only one standing when she is done in court. It makes me ill that judges, who I used to esteem highly, participate in this mockery of justice.

    I trained to be a mediator. In the process of taking a step in getting required credits towards a degree, I fell in love with the possibilities that mediation offers in problem-solving and that the hiring of lawyers only intensifies the conflict. Yes, I know all too well that communication can break down between parties to the point of people abandoning all reason and common sense and personal values should, in a perfect world, not occur. When people who have formerly been friends come to the mediation table, there is so much emotion. So much more has been lost than what legal action can encompass. People who have come to that point don’t leave the mediation table with their friendship restored. But they do get back those pieces of themselves they lost to anger, betrayal, and hurt. Usually, they feel at peace. I firmly believe that the person who has hurt another through his or her actions loses so much more than he or she who has betrayed. He/she adds another black mark on his soul, and he does feel those profoundly when he is not hiding from himself/herself.

    What matters is intent. How you come to a problem and how much generosity you have. How willing you are to let go of ego and pride and self-righteousness. Can you be generous enough to be open to the other and see his position, no matter how flawed you think it is? As long as there are two people on the planet, there will be conflict. How we look at conflict is critical. Do we look at each other and as you say, take a position of being right? In mediation class we were taught to stand beside each other and hold in our hands the problem. It’s amazing how much one comes down from anger looking at a problem that way.

    Sorry, it seems you hit a chord. And you made me think. I value that highly. And I love your picture’s caption. I also appreciate your humor. Thanks for letting me share with you my experience of being right.

    Peace, T.

  18. 40 Pounds By June

    Hello, Andrew. Wonderful thought-provoking post and thankyou for bringing the book to my attention — just the kind of stuff I like to read! As for lawyers and right/wrong arguments, in theory, and like the law, are they not supposed to be objective? Or rather, the representatives of a legal side of an argument? It’s not meant to be personal, as is not the case, for laypersons. When we argue, human feelings and emotions tend to get in the way, often leading to a breakdown in effective communication.
    Am I not right? 😉

    1. Intelligent Challenge Post author

      Thanks for your comment and I hope you enjoy the book. Lawyers are supposed to be objective in the courtroom, but they have plenty of other opportunity to argue subjectively both in the office or at home.

  19. johannes

    Hello, an interesting article and especially your headline.
    Firstly I thought, isn’t that suppose to be the other way around, we are right and you are wrong? This got my interest to check out what you have to say on this subject.

    I like to add 2 different points to it:

    1. Arguing:
    It is a point of observation but has been proven to work out this way uniformly, that people argue not for the sake of winning but for the sake of arguing. Arguing derives its power from the emotional band of anger and antagonism. This emotion simple uses any motion or idea that is moving in on the person or his territory to put up a stand against. Some people are stuck or chronically exhibiting this emotional band and will argue because that’s what they have the urge to do.
    Any argument in such a environment becomes useless as its intent is not to create a better solution or truth but to satisfy the thirst of arguing. In this case the mere fact of arguing will be the win. You can see this sometimes when the person will “change” sides the next day and argue against his own arguments.

    2. How to create a higher truth/solution in a group environment? – Perhaps this is not the main intent of your article but I thought I give my input for what its worth. In my opinion it really depends solely on the individuals of such a group and the term synergy describes very beautifully the sum can be more than the sum of the individuals combined. How much will depend on the individuals. The reason why it depends so much on the individual is that higher truths do have to be agree to by the person himself, so it isn’t enough to find a better solution, it also has to be seen and accepted as such. It will not do to simple overwhelm the person with evidence of ones righteous-ness, he must fully agree and on his own self-determinism.

    If one were to argue about some emotionally charged subject each participant would be require to examine his own reactive feelings and background before entering the discussion.
    And this leads me to the key point, “reacting to it”. If we have a mere debate for social entertainment it matters little but when we want to change something each individual must qualify and confront his own personal reactions and emotional understandings continually. This is where the cracks become apparent or perhaps abyss is a better description.
    As mentioned in above example of an angry man, how do you get him to see that he argues for the sake of arguing!

    I don’t know if this was any good but I enjoyed reading your article.
    In my blog I wrote an article on how law creates irresponsibility, it is not my take on the legal profession but on the individual’s unwillingness to query his own opinions and emotions in regards to matters and push it onto someone else to deal with it.

  20. Mikaela

    My major in college was centered around the seminar style of teaching, with a heavy emphasis on exploring all avenues of a discussion. We spent months reading through Plato’s dialogues, dissecting the way language was used and how it could help us search for “truth.” My biggest problem with politics today, in the work force and in society, is how people disregard any viewpoint which differs from their own. I believe a lot of good comes from people who are open minded enough to talk civilly and thoughtfully with someone who’s beliefs cut against the very grain of their own.

    Too bad our emotions seem to get the best of us more often than not.

  21. rtcrita

    I sometimes find that the more intelligent an individual is, the more I will argue my point. In other words, I don’t argue with dummies! What’s the point? They will never get what you are trying to prove anyway. They tend to argue more out of stubborness and lack of self-esteem more than wanting to be right for the right reason — which in my opinion, is to enlighten someone. They want to be right so they can feel better about themselves. In those situations, I’m often quiet, which I’m sure makes the other person feel like I must know I am wrong, so I keep my mouth shut. Not true, but what does it hurt to let them think that way. It probably makes them feel better about themselves. So be it.

    And don’t get me wrong, by “intelligent,” I don’t necessarily mean “book smart.” As my dad was often fond of saying, “There are a lot of educated fools out there.” By intelligent, I mean someone that can argue (that word alone almost makes people get their back hairs up, doesn’t it?) their point in a way that will prove me wrong without insulting me. Without trying to make me feel stupid. I hate those kind of people. Their need for one-upness on you is vicious because they don’t care at what cost you are proven wrong and they are proven right.

    And fighting/arguing/debating in a relationship is way more touchy. Because I believe that there is this thing that when you know you are right about something, you’ve argued it with your significant other, and they still want to argue even when they know they are wrong, then you must help them save face and lose the argument gracefully. Because if you don’t, you both lose — no matter who is right. You have to help them find their way back to you in a way that leaves them feeling that even though they must now admit (sometimes just to themselves) that they are wrong, you still value them and it in no way takes away from your love for them. You can do this by finding a (or several) point(s) they may have been right about, or something that you can at least say “makes sense” to you, or that you can at the very least understand where they are coming from. Because BEING UNDERSTOOD is probably the single most important thing any human being can want and need in a relationship (no matter what kind) in order for it to be healthy.

    Great post.

    1. Intelligent Challenge Post author

      Great comment – the point you make about saving face is a really important one, especially in discussions with people from other cultures. Roger Fisher (author of getting to yes) wrote about this in his recent book “building agreement” which is about the role of emotions in negotiation.

  22. patridew

    Such concise writing! Improving on the blame game… this approach saved my marriage. I’ve had to ask myself over and over again – in family, with friends or professionally- ‘Do I want to be right or do I want to be in relationship?’
    Great post and congrats on the freshlypressed!

  23. makingup3000

    Oh geez did that bring back memories. My father being a lawyer and the whole “5 lawyers in a room arguing that black was white etc.” reminded me of being young and arguing with my dad about something and how he could turn the whole thing around to make me sound wrong when I knew I was right and there was no winning that argument. I would go to my room crying in frustration only to have him come in and say “I’m sorry and I love you” made it all better and a lesson that I’ve learned to this day. Whenever I’ve upset my kids in any way I always say the same thing and it’s changes everything. Just be humble and say you’re sorry no matter how right you think you are.
    Great blog!!!

    1. Intelligent Challenge Post author

      Thank you – for me too my kids are the best teachers. It’s easy (for me anyway) to get fixated on a principle you want to teach, at the expense of the (little) person! Given that I think being a parent is the most important job on the planet, there’s a real incentive to do better!

  24. Stila Webb

    Interesting. I find I categorize arguments into two basic groups, fact based arguments and feelings based arguments. I never did that before I was married, but I find I have to now, since 9 out of 10 of the arguments my husband and I have are feelings based arguments. Namely, he hurts my feelings and he thinks I shouldn’t have hurt feelings. You can see where that quickly goes. He’s always accusing me of wanting to ‘win’ the argument. There are no winners in such matters, and I now often wonder how many of the arguments we have as adults end up being half feelings and half facts. Just changing the way we disagree from ‘No, that’s not right, this is right’ to “That’s an interesting point, have you thought of…’ would probably change the tone of most conversations. Just my two cents.
    All this from a person who is very adamant on my own view points and tends to get into arguments about politics and religion. I’m getting better!

  25. dialogos inventados

    Hello! Just wanted to say that I belonged to a group here in Buenos Aires where we conducted several World Cafes. It is AMAZING what happens when people listen to each other (we don’t do that often unfortunately), I mean really listen. And the other thing is conversations that matter. We spend our day talking about such trivial things sometimes and when people are given a chance to discuss what really touches them, they will open up and share things that can make your eyes watery. I am not kidding.

    First time on your blog, BTW, would like to read more!

  26. R P

    Research into intra- and inter-group communication has a long history in the social sciences. Cialdini extends earlier work by (for folks interested in learning some of the primary science) psychologists like Stanley Milgram and Leon Festinger. And Irving Janis’ political science classic Groupthink is a good example of the latter (and still a short, fresh read).

    But group dynamic is only half the story and will only take you so far. Fundamentally the way we as individuals evaluate information and make decisions is not nearly as wide as we think it is. We all see bias in others but never in ourselves because whatever we are doing – picking the shortest route to work or formulating tax policy – thinking *feels* the same. We have no way to know when we are being robust and when not. Here too there is a great deal of core psychological research, much of it not very optimistic. (Again, for those who might be interested in the primary research, the seminal work of Kahnemann and Tversky (1970s-2000s) is a good place to start, or more recently the work of Dan Gilbert at Harvard.)

    Let us all know how the World Cafe method works. I’d like a good, honest testimonial.

    Thanks for the post.

  27. Posky

    Way to throw down the gauntlet and give us an express ride to challenge town in that last sentence!


    Someone reading over my shoulder is informing me that I may have missed the point of this article.

    Alright, they explained it to me using a lot of metaphors and puppetry and I’m pretty sure I liked what you had to say. It was all very well put and presented some critical thinking- which is always a rare treat.

  28. reneedavies

    This was an intelligent read! I had hoped that by clicking “The Intelligent Challenge”, I’d be invited to an actual challenge of some kind 🙂

    For what it’s worth, in terms of feisty dialogues or arguments, I insist on finding genuine commonalities between myself and my opponent. There is nothing more disarming than agreeing with one’s opponent on something, anything – and this usually helps to establish reasonableness in a discussion.

    But there are some people who view a difference of opinion as a direct and personal challenge. These people wear me out.

    I enjoyed your British colloquialisms!

  29. littlecurio

    Is it wrong if I love the caption with the photo best? It just made me laugh so much before I read your article! It’s a caption just made for The Far Side 🙂 great post!

  30. Greg

    I have seen this work out in a negative way many times at the senior managment team level. On the surface the Socratic method ought to work. If the parties dialog in a forthright manner then one would expect a sort of dialectic process to occurr where all the alternatives are explored and the parties involved eventually get to a better place than where they started. The irrational part is that if a person’s ideas do not get any respect, then that means that he or she is somehow not OK and they don’t get promoted or put on this thing or that and they are eventually out the door. Our problem solving approaches are so emotionally loaded that it is a wonder any good decisions are made in a group. It seems like we need a decision making process that allows everyone to be safe, save face, and not threaten anyone’s ecomonic or social position. Many people rise to the top through this survival of the fittest mentality only to discover that, once there, they are not fit to lead because they perpetuate the same old stuff.

    That said, when it comes to lawyers I think I still want my lawyer to be a bigger jerk than the other guy’s lawyer because, if lawyers are involved, things have already gone to the dogs.

    1. Intelligent Challenge Post author

      Thanks for the comment Greg – your observations are interesting and I’ve certainly seen similar behaviour. On your last point, if you are doing a deal (say selling a company) rather than heading for court, you probably wouldn’t want your lawyer to be a jerk, but even in that situation I’ve seen people in 24 hour long meetings fighting tooth and nail over an issue which isn’t really important in the grand scheme of things, but which the parties have fought over so much they have become entrenched in their positions and find it hard to let go.

  31. Cole

    Ok, you convinced me to subscribe to your blog but only on one condition: that you acquiesce to the following, here unsupported, assertion concerning the Socratic dialogue.

    It is common for pseudo intellectual authors to turn on the West – it is a mark of the intellectual that he thinks “outside” the Western horizon. Unfortunately, to honestly turn on our inheritance one must understand it. For us Westerners, that means understanding the Socratic dialogue.
    Bono, you assert, claims that socratic discourse results fundamentally in “a selection between two competing ideas is made through knocking down the opposing viewpoint, rather than constructively exploring the issue and looking for alternatives.”

    The Socratic dialogue consists of a) Socrates and b) and interlocuter, someone from the polis. (he speaks with artists, politicians, geometricians, philosophers, actors, etc.) Each person arising from the Greek Polis (from every culture) possesses certain claims to justice. In short – and I apologize for the vulgarity of such an analysis – Socrates uncovers confusions and contradictions in the interlocuter’s understanding of justice. He does not oppose the interlocuter’s opinion with his opinion but initiates a tension (if not in a worthy interlocuter, then in the discerning reader) between these mens’ conflicting views of what is just.

    Remember, in this instance. I am not Socrates – I am right. I have opposed to your assertion concerning the western tradition and Socrates a different interpretation. I believe it an honest one.

  32. Clifton Maddox

    Nothing strengthens ego more than being right. Being right is identification with a mental position- a perspective, an opinion, a judgement, a story. To be right, someone must be wrong. The ego loves to make wrong. You need to make others wrong in order to gain a stronger sense of who you are. Being right places you in an imagined state of moral superiority. This sense of superiority is what the ego craves and through which it enhances itself. Unless you know the basic mechanics behind the workings of the ego, you won’t recognize it, and it will trick you into identifying with it again and again. This means it takes you over.

    The egoic mind is completely conditioned by the past. This conditioning is twofold: It consists of content and structure. When a child cries in deep suffering over a toy that has been taken away, the toy represents content. It is interchangeable with any other content, any other toy or object. The content you identify with is conditioned by your environment, your upbringing, your culture. The reason such suffering occurs is concealed in the word “my”, and it is structural. The unconscious compulsion to enhance one’s identity through association with an object is built into the very structure of the egoic mind.
    The word “identification” is derived from the Latin word idem, meaning “same” and facere, which means “to make”. To identify means to make it same. The same as what? The same as I. I endow it with a sense of self and it becomes a part of my “identity”. One of the most basic levels of identification is with things. I try to find myself in things but never quite make it and end up losing myself in them. That is the fate of the ego.

  33. Majestic

    You know, in 1941 a man named Peter Viereck predicted that America may fall to a similar fate as Nazi Germany by way of collectivism. It seems that he was right.

    Discussing similarities in Germany and America in 1941 when he first published Metapolitics. “An over-mechanized and over-specialized industrial society is spawning mass men, instead of responsible, self-disciplined individuals rooted in the universal moral values” (Metapolitics p. 307) Viereck predicited that Americans may get a similar version of what Nazi Germany arrived at: collectivism. What a prophet he was in an age when we cannot even question the war or we are “not supporting the troops.” Dissent is not allowed in this mass produced age and where we are so over specialized that prices are soaring through the roof in both college and medical fields of absurdity.

    The author of The World Cafe is contradicting himself if he doesn’t believe in right and wrong and says that collective intelligence is the way to communicate. And simply put those who do not know history are bound to repeat it.

    The answer to collectivism is localism. The answer to 1984 is 1776.

  34. James W. Sasongko

    Great exploration! Thanks for sharing!

    I have some experiences with this method, and I hope this is not a spoiler for you. I use World Cafe quite frequently, and it serves me well. As well as other conversational technique for initiating collective change, this method has its own strength and weaknesses. But, it has a significance in finding solution in ways that emphasis on ‘what rather than who’.
    It also allows the issue evolve through the people’s perspective in a way that we may not able to precisely identify who said what. That leaves a huge space for everyone to re-invent the perspective on the issues collectively, and therefore, leads to find the ‘crack’ to exploit for further development.

    I find my experiences in using World Cafe so far as invigorating. I hope you have insightful experiences too.

  35. Ahmeron

    According to your headline: When it comes to wrong and right, me being a norwegian loving to play with words… Two is sitting in a car and the driver asks: “Shall I turn left?” and the passenger replies: “Right…”
    So… uhm…

  36. franksting

    Serendipitous reading, following an altercation with someone this evening. While I knew I was “right”, I felt deflated for the night because of it. All I can think of is WHY!?!
    This helps, as it reminds me that confronting someone for doing ‘wrong” often makes them become defensive and less likely to accept what is ‘right’. With my kids it makes them more likely to do the right thing.
    I need to show a better way, prepare to lost a few battles and perhaps win the war instead.
    It’s a large mental movement, so forgive me if it takes some time.

    1. Intelligent Challenge Post author

      Thanks Frank – Covey addresses much of this in the 7 Habits book. Yes it may be a few years old now, but the underlying principles address many of the challenges I outlined in the post. For what it’s worth, I don’t think anyone makes the sort of behaviour shift you are talking about quickly!

  37. Rio

    Someone in the comments compared legal argument to boxing and that sounds pretty sexy, however, when this artful excercise is taken out of the ring, namely lawyers arguing with lawyers in the abstract and is applied to, for instance, child custody issues, unlike a boxing match, it is not the opposing lawyers who suffer.

    In real human terms, intelligent problem solving can not be adversarial, should not be adversarial, must not be adversarial, to have any measure of success.

    1. Intelligent Challenge Post author

      I absolutely agree that adversarial problem solving is not always the way forward. In defence of lawyers though, in heated litigation (whether about kids or anything else) the lawyers are often following their client’s instructions. I spent a few weeks in a family department when I was training to be a lawyer, and it was very unpleasant. You certainly didn’t see people at their best, understandable as it may be. As noted in many of the comments, emotion and ego can make things much worse

  38. rebekahleann

    deep. as i sat with my four year old at my house i thought to myself hmph? at age four my son already knows that to argue successfully he must be able to prove your idea is wrong and his is right. i think maybe this is something we should change. he should grow to see value in the other point, but also know how to support his as well. i must say i like your blog, even as a stay at home mom (for the moment, will be working again soon though). it reminds me that business thinking or rather successful, intuitive thinking is on everyone’s level.

    1. Intelligent Challenge Post author

      Thanks Rebekah – it amazes me how early kids learn to negotiate, and also how we, as parents, can learn a lot about ourselves as we raise them. I’d certainly remove the “even as a” wording from before the “stay-at-home mom” description – that’s the most important and toughest job on the block!

  39. The Invisible Cookbook

    Great blog!! Thank you for providing something so chewy. I have not read through all the comments so excuse me if I am repeating others but your blog has made me re-reflect on a most excellent argument i had last night over a game of scrabble, mainly over the rules. But i think the argument ended up being more of a vent of pent up emotions than anything else. I felt like an Italian Mama and it was good!! During the argument I started thinking about why I spend so much time defending myself when according to the laws of physics there is not much that differentiates two people, our physical bodies have no distinct start or finish (please correct me if I am wrong) and we have come from the same place (birth) and we will end up in the same place (death). But why do most of us think of ourselves as more important than another, and more to the topic, strive to win against another. Where the hell does the ‘me’ and the ‘I’ that we are so addicted to come from anyway… and what exactly is it. The ego is the best tool for Darwin’s theory of evolution I guess, without it we wouldn’t have survival of the fittest and therefore we wouldn’t have the world as we know it, but it still doesn’t explain what it is and where it comes from… Anyhow, all this collapsing of a defining me made me put myself in the shoes of the person I was arguing with, placing them as more important than myself, taking their side over mine, and I tell you what, that felt good too, it felt just as good as what if felt like to be an Italian Mama and even a little bit better!

    1. Grumpy Goat

      Interesting thoughts. I really like your idea of focusing on the macro perspective – that we’re all more alike than not, that we’re all facing some of the same big issues and that it does pay to put ourselves in others shoes. I come from a spiritual background, so excuse me for my relating this to something else, but, in the end, there are only two things we can really do in this life: (a) love one another and (b) let go of our mistaken notions of what we think is right (i.e. repent), or when our attention is focused on the entirely wrong objective.

  40. Basil Mullon

    In science there is always an opposite – in thought there is always an opposite point of view – Every “thing” has 2 forces acting on it, one is positive and one is negative This all comes about because the universe is in motion, planets revolve around the sun.
    When it comes to people discussing a subject, – each person is right and the other is wrong – the LAW is what governs – GOD’S law or man’s law.

  41. Pingback: Why sorry is the hardest word

  42. Pingback: Why sorry is the hardest word « The Intelligent Challenge

  43. Pingback: Right vs. Let’s Get it Right | The Relationship Destroyers

Leave a Reply to Intelligent Challenge Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s