What We Do When Someone Disagrees With Us

Being Wrong: Adventures in the Margin of Error

Kathryn Schulz, author of Being Wrong: Adventures in the Margin of Error, gave an excellent talk at TED this past year.

There is a moment in her talk when she summarizes what we do when someone disagrees with us that is worth pondering.

…The first thing we usually do when someone disagrees with us is that we just assume they are ignorant. You know, they don’t have access to the same information we do and when we generously share that information with them, they are going to see the light and come on over to our team.

When that doesn’t work. When it turns out those people have all the same information and they still don’t agree with us we move onto a second assumption. They’re idiots. They have all the right pieces of the puzzle and they are too moronic to put them together.

And when that doesn’t work. When it turns out that people have all the same facts that we do and they are pretty smart we move onto a third assumption. They know the truth and they are deliberately distorting it for their own malevolent purposes.

So this is a catastrophe: our attachment to our own rightness. It prevents us from preventing mistakes when we need to and causes us to treat each other terribly.