Disprove Your Position to Strengthen Your Argument
Most people reach a point in their life where they do things a certain way. The problem with that is that we all have confirmation bias: we tend to only seek out and remember information that confirms what we already believe to be true. That’s why you should actively seek to disprove your position to strengthen your argument.
The problem is the flipside of this: we also tend to reframe, ignore, or dismiss information that goes against what we believe. This means that sometimes we focus too much on what our audience doesn’t know without thinking about what we’re blind to. When you understand this, you understand why the vast majority of startups fail because there is no market for their product.
As much as you believe in your product or service, need to disconfirm as much as you can so that you’ll anticipate all of the pros and cons that will be coming at you from the marketplace. In fact, you should actively seek to disprove your position to strengthen your argument and your perception as a speaker.
How do you put this in practice? Try building some “Yeah, but…” statements around each step of the Red Thread. “Yeah, but we don’t have the time,” or, “Yeah, but that’s not how we’re organized.” Acknowledging and anticipating your audience’s objections will allow you think more thoughtfully around them and develop responses to them, not just in your message but in your product or service itself.
– You’ve probably reached a certain point in your life where you have your way of doing things. It’s the right way, most of the time. And if you’re a message maker of some kind then you probably spend some amount of your time convincing other people that that is also the right way.
There’s a little problem with that though and that’s a little thing about how our brains are wired and that’s called confirmation bias. You may have heard of it before, but it’s where we tend to seek out, or at least only remember, the information that backs up what we already believe to be true, and that can be, as you can imagine, pretty dangerous when it means taking your right way out into the world. I’m Tamsen Webster of tamsenwebster.com and that’s what we’re talking about this week on Find the Red Thread.
It’s hard to find an example of confirmation bias that isn’t immediately divisive because of confirmation bias because as soon as I put something out there like all cats are great, then there’s a part of you that goes, “But I don’t think so. I’ve seen all this stuff that says cats aren’t great.” Now for the sake of argument, we’re going to choose one side or the other. For the sake of this argument, we’re going to choose that all cats are great. Now I acknowledge that not all cats are great. But if you already have that belief, then you’re going to enter into the world looking for information, consciously and subconsciously, that confirms that view. That’s where the confirmation bias comes in. It means that you’re going to pay more attention to and remember those videos where a cat is saving a toddler from an attacking dog, for instance, rather than some other example of a cat just being a complete jerk, which there are plenty of examples too.
It means that you’re going to remember and share the articles that talk about the fierce independence of cats and you’re going to frame that from a perspective of it being a good thing. But it also means that you’re going to conveniently ignore or reframe information like that jerk cat if it doesn’t fit. “Well, the cat was provoked,” or, “Well, that was just not a good owner,” or whatever.
Now with cats it can be just a source of maybe some interpersonal strife, but think about what happens when confirmation bias comes into play when you are entering a new product to the market. It means not just that they’re blind to the faults or the gaps in what they’re seeing, it means that you can be blind too. Now, there’s this amazing statistic that says a vast majority of startups fail because there was no market for their product. In other words, they entered the market with this bias that assumes that people would want what they’d made without doing any of the research for it. My husband, Tom Webster, talks about that a lot.
So, how do we go against it? How do we process this? How do we solve that problem? Well, one of the first things we have to understand is a concept that comes from science, in fact the scientific method is based on it. And it’s the idea that you can’t ever actually prove something or someone 100% right, you can only prove them wrong because it’s easy to find examples of things not existing and it’s really hard to find confirmation of the opposite. In other words, everybody thought there was no black swan, for instance, until someone found it, so that proves something wrong. But it doesn’t mean we can’t know for sure that there aren’t any purple swans just because we haven’t seen them yet.
So what does this mean for you? What it means for you is that we also, as much as you believe in your idea, your product, your service, that you need to disconfirm as much as you can so that you can anticipate the dangers, the objections, all of the pros and cons that are going to be coming at you from the marketplace. So that mantra, “Seek to disconfirm,” is a way to adopt what I call the dis-confirmation bias and it’s your best answer to this subconscious bias that’s always going on.
We could actively seek to disprove our position. And in fact if you do that in the course of a talk or a book or a marketing platform, you end up not only with a more defensible product or idea but you also come across as more authoritative, more empathic to your audience, more dimensional in your understanding of what people’s perspectives and other perspectives actually are. In other words, you end up looking more well-rounded and better able to process and to put that message out there and I think that’s a pretty good thing to do.
So what does this look like in real life? Well, the first thing is, if you’re putting it to a message or a longer piece of content, I always recommend when I’m working with my clients that they include a couple “yeah, but…” sections. And what I mean by “yeah but” is when they object to something that you’ve put out for them.
So for instance, let’s say you have introduced them to the Goal: “We want to differentiate in the marketplace.” Well, they’re going to come up with some yeah but’s: “Yeah, but we’re in a commodity market,” or, “Yeah, but we don’t have the time or the money.” And to be able to acknowledge ahead of time and even in the course of what you’re writing or speaking about that those objections exist allows you to think more thoughtfully around them and allows you to actually develop responses to them, maybe not just in your message but in your product or service itself.
In interpersonal relationships, one of the things that’s always helped me is to say to myself, “Act as if you’re wrong, even when you know you’re right.” It’s a little reminder to me that even if I might be absolutely sure that I am right about something that if I act as if I’m wrong, or act as if I might be, then it puts me in a position of asking more questions, of listening more, and of responding from a point of trying to understand rather than just trying to inform. So confirmation bias is not a death sentence for critical thinking or acceptance of a new product or message in the marketplace, particularly not if you cultivate dis-confirmation, you seek to disconfirm.
If you want more help thinking through this or writing some of that longer piece of content around your new message or your platform in the marketplace, check out more information about me and the work that I do at tamsenwebster.com. And if you enjoy these videos, subscribe on YouTube, leave a review on iTunes or Libsyn, wherever you happen to listen, I’d really appreciate it. This has been Tamsen Webster of tamsenwebster.com and Find the Red Thread.