Why there is no right or wrong in a disagreement, just shades of perspective and bias

I work in the world of human performance. I work with athletes who try to set world records, beat and compete with the best, and challenge for championships. Just like in every other domain of life, in sport there are disagreements, misunderstandings, arguments about what happened, who did what to who, and what should or should not have been done.

Short of the accuracy of timing, or the ball crossing the goal line (and even those sometimes have photo finishes or instant replays to settle the score), in most instances what happened is all a matter of perspective. What you saw, or the coach saw, or the opposition saw or heard for that matter, is all framed in a perspective born of bias, and of memory.

All of us have grown up whether we want to admit it or not with certain social biases driven from our experiences throughout our lives, and driven by the opinions and biases of people we looked up to as we grew up. In some instances we simply adapted or accepted those biases as our own, leaning towards the same viewpoint as our parents for instance. If our parents were bigots, then quite often we accepted those thoughts as real and true, inarguable.

Alternatively, we decided that what our parents thought, or our grandparents or our teacher’s thought was malarkey. We made our own decision that we would not be swayed by their bias and so we adopted the opposite perspective, another viewpoint so to speak. Was it the right viewpoint? Were our parents wrong, or were they just seeing things from the eyes of their own biased perspective?

When we add to this that much recent research in the area of memory has revealed that our subconscious mind, which is responsible for much of our recollection of circumstances or experiences, likes to colour or functionally replace information we may not have seen or experienced in order to complete the stories we recall. Considering this we begin to understand that there is very limited certainty in most discussion or argument, just shades of bias and perspective.

The fallibility of our recollection has been challenged so much so that eye witness testimony, which for so long was considered the key to establishing doubt or certainty in a court case is often no longer admissible or considered relevant.

So if we realize that in any given situation in which there is disagreement, there will always be bias and discrepancy in recollection, we start out knowing that we may be wrong. If we start with that baseline, then our challenge becomes opportunity to learn, not command from the bully pulpit.

How do we learn? How to we open our eyes to other perspectives? How do we challenge our recollection or bias?

We listen.

Yep, that’s it! We listen intentionally, with a true desire to understand what the other person is saying, even when they are not doing a great job of listening themselves. We put away our desire to be right, to know the answer, or to put them in their place, and we just listen.

Then we ask questions.

Yep, before you start telling the other person what has been festering in your mind and needs to get out. What you believe to be the solution, or the correct answer, take some time to ask questions about how that person got to that place in their mind. Don’t tell them what you think, listen to why they think the way they think. Listen and understand their viewpoint and even when you disagree with it vehemently, recognize that it comes from a place of bias and uncertainty in them as well.

Empathy is the most valuable emotional centre point for any discussion. Doing our best to understand the other person should be our goal every time. Recognize that they may be coming from a negative space, or a different world of experience that is clouding or freeing their recollection.

Finally, recognize our own state of mind when we enter into such discussion. Our state of mind clouds our viewpoint and often challenges our ability to think and express ourselves clearly. If we are amped up because of a challenging day at work, or something has us in a place of negativity, then our opinions will be coloured once more by our mind’s eye.

An emotional triad worth considering every time you perhaps disagree with someone else’s perspective is first be kind to yourself and understand where your mind is coming from, then recognize that the person across from you has their own bias and state of mind, and finally recognize that no one, not you, nor the person you are talking to knows anything with total certainty. Practicing this triad when connecting with others will often bring a sense of calm and kindness often missing in communication today.

Yes, You may never be right again, but that’s ok!

Originally published at medium.com