Economist Noriel Roubini correctly anticipated the collapse of the U.S. housing market and the 2008-2009 recession. Since then he has become more well-known, and has more followers. And more critics. Often he is assumed to hold a bearish view on the market and economy. Some call him a perma-bear, and along the way he picked up the nickname Dr. Doom, but he argues that it’s not necessarily so. In making prognostications for 2014, Roubini said, “You don’t want to listen only to people who agree with you, you want to listen to people who disagree with you, and understand why . . . it pushes you to think harder about why they might be correct.”
Roubini’s critics might very well consider the same advice for themselves. For while both sides might agree on the difficulty of timing the market, many would now agree that Roubini brought insight into marketplace fundamentals that were obscured by the housing bubble.
The Forces of Human Nature
There are forces of human nature that make listening difficult, beginning with a tendency to not fully turn off the I-disagree-with-you button before you get a full airing of the opposing or contrarian point of view. Rather than listening and planning your rebuttal (a presumably persuasive argumentative response) consider cataloging those points with which you (surprisingly?) agree. Then, think about how the points with which you may still disagree may be held by others. Can you understand it from their point of view? Does it help inform your own view? With a new understanding of Roubini, one might disregard his predictions and instead focus on the flashpoints in the world economy to develop or reinforce your own conclusions.
People generally ... hear what they listen for.
In To Kill A Mockingbird, Atticus Finch says to Scout, his daughter, "If you can learn a simple trick, Scout, you'll get along a lot better with all kinds of folks. You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view […] until you climb into his skin and walk around in it."
In seeking to bridge understanding from disagreement you may even find yourself facing friendly fire. Politics and policy is embattled by a news cycle that is often hyperventilated by the speed of social media. The bridge may be burning as soon as you set foot on it. In 2008, then-Senator Obama was criticized on the campaign trail for praising former President Ronald Reagan as being a transformative leader. As the flames of controversy died down, it was easier to understand what Obama meant—it was an endorsement of the power of change, not of policy. But the critics had come out in force, even from his own party.
Napoleon was quoted as saying, “The people to fear are not those who disagree with you, but those who disagree with you and are too cowardly to let you know.” As a leader, Napoleon knew that the information can help us make an informed action—maybe one with grave consequences—can be uncovered by listening and encouraging communication from those with whom we disagree.
Effective Business Communications
In your communications, consider how disagreement impacts understanding. Those who disagree with us may listen selectively, may not listen at all, or may transform our message to fit their point of view. If they aren’t listening, you’re not communicating. The better we are at understanding the perspective of those who disagree with us, the more our chance of having an effective communication that can anticipate the disagreement, and maybe find a common point of agreement to move forward. Let them know that even though you disagree, you understand their point of view. That just might get their ear.