Can You Debate from the Other Side?

Last week I returned to a podcast, Funding the Dream, that has been silent for a long time. We had a great chat about the current state of Kickstarter and what it would look like for Stonemaier Games to return after a 3-year absence from the platform.

But one of the secret joys of recording Funding the Dream is chatting with Richard Bliss before recording begins. Richard has a ton of business experience and insights, and he always shares a lot of interesting information during those warm-up chats.

In our most recent chat, he said something that has stuck with me. I can’t remember exactly what we were discussing, but the general topic was about debates. Specifically, when someone has a really strong opinion about a subjective matter, to the point that they state it as a fact.

I’ve had that experience a number of times (more online than in person, but a little of both). I’m sure you have too, and it’ll probably happen again.

Richard said that sometimes when he encounters someone with a really strong opinion, regardless of Richard’s opinion, he’ll ask the person if they could take a minute to debate from the perspective of the other side. Like, hypothetically, if they had the opposite opinion, what would they say?

I may be paraphrasing this poorly, but you get the idea: Can you even pretend for a moment to see through someone else’s eyes? The point of asking someone to do this is to see if it’s worth continuing the discussion with them.

Richard said this way more eloquently than I’m writing it here. The point is, I really like that question as a litmus test when discussing contentious topics. It’s a fantastic way to not waste your time in a conversation that won’t go anywhere. And at the same time, it’s a great reminder to me that if I’m going to have a strong opinion about something, I need to be able to understand the opposite perspective as well.

What do you think about this adage? Do you have any kind of filter like this that you use when deciding to enter tough conversations?

2 thoughts on “Can You Debate from the Other Side?”

  1. This is a fantastic approach. And when you force yourself to do it (before you even ask the other person to) it reminds you that the other person is human too.

  2. Back in college, I had the chance to take a History of the U.S. Navy course, and while we viewed a number of great films from The Caine Mutiny to a A Few Good Men, we had a chance to debate some of the more divisive areas of our military (at the time, I had not joined the Air Force). A friend of mine, a young woman named Sally, and I debated the role of women in combat. I had a strong feeling that there should be no barrier to women in combat…let the criteria decide if someone is fit or unfit for combat, while Sally was a vocal opponent of such an idea. Well, thanks to Brother Ed Sheehy (someone you can see in the late 80s and 90s on the Lettermen Show as he was a long-standing fixture at LaSalle University), he had us research and debate the opposite side. It was truly illuminating to me how many vocal opponents there were on the idea of woman in combat, especially at a time when woman were moving into many different professions.


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