Rahul, Psychology, Class of 2021
Hello everyone! Since writing my last blog post on decolonizing the classroom—and thanks to Reading Week—I’ve found time to look over a handful of books on learning. Adam Grant’s Think Again taught me some lessons on intellectual humility, an important trait that I aim to develop more in the coming weeks and months.
Here are three of Grant’s key messages. I’m going to think about how to apply them to my own life and studies; why don’t you do the same and share the details of your plans on SASS’s social media feeds?
- Seek out information that challenges your views
“You can fight confirmation bias, burst filter bubbles, and escape echo chambers by actively engaging with ideas that challenge your assumptions. An easy place to start is to follow people who make you think—even if you usually disagree with what they think.”
Information that aligns with our views is comforting. We are more likely to be invested in it, but simultaneously, we risk getting stuck in a path resistant to corrections. If and when you find yourself arguing for a certain view (e.g., in an essay or research paper), consider finding counter examples or works that go against the argument you support.
When you start forming an opinion, resist the temptation to preach your own view. Otherwise, you might fall prey to confirmation bias—a shortcut in our thinking that describes our tendency to search for, interpret, favor, and recall information in a way that confirms our prior beliefs or values. Instead, think like a scientist. Assume your argument is a hunch that is testable and fallible in certain circumstances. Once you view the counterarguments, you can better convey your ideas and thoughts into something more complex and richer. Exploring the opposite of what you already think might help you prove your initial argument!
2. Remember that less is often more
“If you pile on too many different reasons to support your case, it can make your audiences defensive—and cause them to reject your entire argument based on its least compelling points. Instead of diluting your argument, lead with a few of your strongest points.”
If you have an essay, presentation, assignment, or especially a research paper where you are trying to prove a main point, it’s probably in your favour to support your view with strong, thorough examples rather than multiple, weak examples. Quality will almost always trump quantity. If you find yourself rambling when you speak during a presentation or interview, sometimes overloading the audience can hinder your performance. Adam Grant explains that when you’re negotiating or debating with another party, the more compelling argument comes from the one that tells a story with their examples; and a good story is full of details that draws us in: although academic writing isn’t usually the same as storytelling, the same applies in your papers.
3. Don’t shy away from constructive conflict.
“Disagreements don’t have to be disagreeable. Although relationship conflict is usually counterproductive, task conflict can help you think again. Try framing disagreement as a debate: people are more likely to approach it intellectually and less likely to take it personally”
Grant explains that it’s better to address conflict or disagreement early on in any work process. We can easily apply this rule when working on group projects! Don’t let problems build up and then react to them days before the project’s deadline. Even if you don’t know what those concerns may be, spend time with your group to figure out potential roadblocks. Everyone probably knows more than you about something, so find ways to boost your peers’ involvement and value their ideas and contributions. When trying to engage in constructive conflict yourself, ask several how questions to target the situation and not the people involved: how can we work together to resolve this? How can we find the best people for this task? How can we find the best and most efficient solution? How can we ensure we don’t needlessly argue?
Finding and responding to potential conflicts and blockages early on can be tough and frustrating, but it’s progress. Embrace it. Needless to say, learning is never perfectly linear; sometimes we have to persist through challenges to reach new heights.
There are many more lessons you could take away from Grant’s Think Again. I encourage you to check out the book to learn more about how rethinking can improve your academic life!