On Sunday I wrote a blog post using only questions. It was based on the book “Think Again: The Power of Knowing What You Don’t Know” by Adam Grant.
You know the feeling when creativity just makes you happy? When joy leaps out because you’re letting the the Universe have its way with you? Whether you’re painting, quilting, gardening, singing, whatever–Life is flowing through you and you’re expanded and whispering yesssss.
That’s how I felt when writing the post Can we be inspired to Think Again?
But this morning the creative juices have turned directions and I’m thinking again. Reading more of the book. Feeling that–even though the creative expression was fun and playful–I don’t think I did a very good job of articulating what the book is about. What made my heart sing while reading.
So. Think again. Take two. Yet again.
Let’s see if we can learn something together. (Or you can just look at the pictures, most of them taken in the last week or so.)
One of the fascinating points he makes is that we often take on particular identities when we think and talk. We become preachers, prosecutors and politicians depending on what we’re trying to say. When our sacred beliefs come into question we deliver sermons to protect and promote our ideals. We’re a prosecutor when we recognize flaws in other’s reasoning and marshal arguments to prove them wrong. We shift into politician status when we’re seeking to win over an audience.
I don’t know about you guys, but I’ve slipped into each of these three modes during my lifetime. Sometimes they even play out unconsciously. You too? He advocates a different role: think like a scientist. Be aware of the limits of your understanding, doubt what you know, be curious about what you don’t know. Be ready to update your views based on new data.
(Some of you may even recognize this “scientific” approach from your spiritual journeys.)
Now I’m sure we’re all aware of the limits of science, but I like the idea of being more aware of allowing uncertainty and flexibility to guide my footsteps.
Grant tells story after story (one of my favorite kinds of books to read!) Do you know there is a condition called Anton’s syndrome? A person can be oblivious to a physical disability such as blindness. Yep, you read that right. You can be blind and not know it.
He goes on to suggest that we are all vulnerable to a version on Anton’s syndrome: we all have blind spots in our knowledge and opinions. We can have false confidence in our judgment that prevents us from rethinking. The good news, he says, is that with the right kind of confidence, we can learn to see ourselves more clearly and update our views.
Have you ever felt the JOY of being wrong? I don’t believe I have too often. Status quo: my ego often jumps in to defend its viewpoint. There’s more at stake than simply ideas–we become identified with what we believe. Whether it’s pro-vaccine or against, Democrat or Republican, pro or anti-abortion–we cement these beliefs around us and often vigorously defend them without truly opening to explore gray murky possibilities. Without recognizing that things are much more complex than we can even intuit.
Grant spends a chapter talking about the psychology of constructive conflict. Really? There’s such a thing as constructive conflict? There’s a part of me that doesn’t much like conflict and would rather turn off Facebook than read another self-righteous opinion. I guess I’ve never thought much that conflict can be positive, hopeful, fruitful. He tells many stories about Orville and Wilbur Wright and their passionate arguments over ideas. Hmmm, conflict can be a gift? I will think again about this reboot in my own understanding.
How to influence people? Win debates–or at least get someone to open his or her mind to new alternatives? When we’re trying to persuade folks we often take an adversarial approach (case in point: Facebook demonizing). Instead of opening another’s mind, we effectively shut them down or rile them up. Then they play defense, preach, prosecute or tell us what they think we want to hear.
I’ve done this a few hundred times this lifetime. Usually this happens when I’m frustrated and don’t know how to share my opinion. I often move from feelings and it often feels impossible to articulate what’s behind the feeling. Hence—frustration. Grant opens his reader’s eyes that our exchanges can be more like a dance that hasn’t been choreographed, negotiated with a partner who has a different set of steps in mind. If you try too hard to lead, your partner will resist. If you can adapt your moves to hers, and get her to do the same, you’re more likely to end up in rhythm.
What works best in this dance? Asking open-ended questions. Engaging in reflective listening. Affirming the person’s desire and ability to change.
Which brings me back to the last blog post. As he told story after story about asking open-ended questions, really listening to what others think, I suddenly saw ways that I could engage more lovingly with those who disagree. (And that snowballed into writing the post using only questions–trying to SHOW how to do this rather than blindly TELL. However, I don’t think it succeeded, except for the few who could feel the joy coming forth in between the sentences of the poem/book review.)
Anyone who is intrigued and inspired to improve the quality of relationships with others who think differently–you may want to read this book. Because it opened my mind.
Now, if I can just remember to think about these techniques in real-life situations!