It is well known amongst psychologists that human beings are inordinately and irrationally fond of their own ideas, even after they have been roundly disproved. It’s at its most ugly in global warming and other debates where denialists are to be found in large numbers but, once you start looking for it, you will see it everywhere; especially in your own behaviour.
Ever had an argument where deep down you knew you were wrong but couldn’t admit it? Ever suggested an idea at a meeting and then been annoyed when it was barely noted, even though you really knew it wasn’t very good? Have you ever said “no” without thinking to a request from a child and then resorted to “because I said so” when they asked why?
We can’t help being so enamoured of our own opinions but, once we accept that it is the case and that it is unhelpful, we can use new strategies to improve how we communicate.
I first heard the suggestion that we should all have “strong beliefs, weakly held” from Bob Sutton, and it goes hand-in-hand with his suggestion that we should “fight as if you’re right, listen as if you’re wrong”. The idea is that we should fight passionately for what we believe in, but that we should also be prepared at every stage to listen to the opposing view point and change our opinions if we are shown to be wrong.
It’s a fantastic view, and it is one that is growing in popularity. Certainly, the world would be a better place if we all subscribed to it. There is a problem though: it only works if all the parties in a debate are using it. If they aren’t, their interpretation of the other people’s motives will coloured by their own habits and the weak holder of the strong view risks appearing to be an arrogant loud-mouthed arse.
We weak holders of strong views need to bear that in mind, because we won’t get our point across if the other person has walked off in disgust.