How To Learn From People You Disagree With

Have you ever read a book and disagreed with more than half of it? 

If so, what did you do about it? Did you call it garbage and refuse to finish it? Or maybe you didn’t ever pick it up to begin with because you knew you had a different opinion than the author.

I would say you’re missing out.

Clearly, I love the Internet – I work here every day. But it has a fabulous way of herding us into corrals of like people with like mindsets and like ideas. That feels pretty comfortable, but it’s not very conducive to creativity or learning.

I’m old enough to remember digging around and finding new and different and odd and cool sites on the Internet put together by passionate people with weird ideas. But as search engines and social media strive to serve us information we’ll like, we lose the ability to accidentally find something interesting.

If you’ve ever worked in IT for a company of any size, you know that the staff is often international. It’s one very frustrating part of the job – everyone comes from different cultures and different mindsets. Communication is challenging because although you might speak the same language, you’re not doing it the same way. Even those from English speaking countries have trouble understanding each other sometimes. 

But, one of the most wonderful things about these IT groups is that the staff is international. Because people speak different languages, you have to re-think your ideas and your communication. Because people are from different cultures, they come up with different approaches and different solutions. It pushes forward intellectual creativity. And this was my favorite thing about working at a big company.

Bazillions of business books are written each year (not an actual statistic). You can learn something from every single one of them, even if you disagree with the author. I can say that as much as I like the feeling of confirmation when I read or watch something I agree with, I learn a whole lot more when I consume content that I’m unsure about.

That doesn’t mean believe everything you read either. But you have a brain – think about what you read or watch and think about whether it could be true, or whether it could help you. Have an open mind but use it wisely.

If you’re with me so far, there are 3 ways you can learn and benefit from consuming content you disagree with. If you’re ready to bail, I’d ask you, “Where’s your book?” If someone’s written a book, maybe they do know something.

How you can learn from every bit of content you consume

1| Mining for one tiny gem

Sometimes you might feel like the premise of a book is nonsense, but your entire network is telling you to read it. So you check it out and sure enough, it’s promoting a bait & switch philosophy you despise. Isn’t that something nearly everyone finds despicable?

And yet, lots of folks are reading and recommending the book. Even if you don’t read it cover to cover, dig through the Contents and the chapter summaries. Try to figure out what is working for the author and why. Think about how you could adapt her approach to your own viewpoint.

Maybe there’s one section of tactics that fit your business exactly. If you toss the whole book, you’ll miss them. There might be nuggets of wisdom in there if you’re willing to look at their perspective, or past the outlook you don’t care for. 

In this example, the author might have amazing ways to “bait” customers. What if you called it “attract” customers, and then didn’t do a switch, but provided what the customer was looking for? You could have a huge win there. The author’s customer attraction system could be revolutionary, but you’d miss it if you gave up before giving the book a chance.

2| Learning from a different perspective 

“My mom wanted me to understand that I should never just write off opinions that I disagreed with or disliked, because there was always something to learn from the perspectives of others, even when doing so might be difficult.”

Zachary R. Wood,  TED Talk

Learning from a perspective that’s different from yours can help you see your own situation more clearly. When you understand what drives and motivates the folks who might prescribe solutions you don’t like, you can consider how you see those motivations. 

So, in the example above, if you examine the author’s motivations behind her bait and switch tactics, you could have a few different reactions. One could be to confirm your disagreement and reinforce your own opinion. Another might be to see her recommendations in a whole new light. What if her “bait” lured in customers with what they want and the “switch” was actually a switch to a product or service they need, and is even more helpful?

At the very least, thinking about the motivations of someone you disagree with can clarify and strengthen your existing position. You can see more about your own motivations in realizing how differently you and the author see the world.

How to learn from people you disagree with

3| Embrace the unknown to learn from people you disagree with

Sometimes our initial disagreement or resistance is simply an uncomfortableness with the unknown. Learning about new subjects and new points of view is more than increasing the volume of things you understand. Somehow, it increases the depth of understanding and the ability to see more at the same time.

Learning new things is frightening to a lot of folks because it does often challenge their existing beliefs. But if you can look at new information as fascinating and exciting, whether you agree with it or not, you can really keep yourself open to opportunities. (Although acting on them is sometimes a completely different story!!!) 

If you head into unknown (learning) territory eagerly rather than with immediate disagreement, you might actually challenge you own previous opinions. And that’s not necessarily good or bad, but just something to be open to. 

Disagreeable Information

I write this today because I’ve had the experience of finding that one gem of an idea in a sea of disagreeable information. I can’t stand those in-your-face yelling, lounging-on-a-Lambo, backwards-hat-wearing guys who sell the latest and greatest money making schemes. But I’ve watched some of their content and I’ve learned some valuable tactics. 

So, when I say, learn from people you disagree with, partly I mean – find those gems. And partly I mean be open to changing your mind. And even if neither of those happen for you, you will better understand your own position.

Featured Image Photo by Vincent van Zalinge on Unsplash

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