MAUGHAN: Wow, okay, that escalated quickly.
* * *
DUCKWORTH: I’m Angela Duckworth.
MAUGHAN: I’m Mike Maughan.
DUCKWORTH + MAUGHAN: And you’re listening to No Stupid Questions.
Today on the show: how do we disagree better?
DUCKWORTH: I am not some young whippersnapper. I can do whatever I want.
* * *
MAUGHAN: Angela, as a human being who lives on Earth, I think you, and I, and every single person, can connect with today’s question.
DUCKWORTH: Hmm. Okay. I’m all ears. Yes.
MAUGHAN: It was a joint question that interestingly was submitted by two U.S. governors, one Republican and one Democrat.
DUCKWORTH: Now, I’m really all ears.
MAUGHAN: Okay, here’s their question. They say, “There is so much hostility and contempt in the world today, especially around politics. It’s okay to disagree, but we have to learn to disagree in a way that is productive and not destructive. What would you recommend to help people disagree better?” Governor Spencer Cox, Republican, Utah; Governor Jared Polis, Democrat, Colorado.
DUCKWORTH: Wow. I feel the weight of responsibility.
MAUGHAN: So, and I should give this context that Governor Cox, the Republican from Utah, is the chair of the National Governors Association. So, all 50 governors have this National Governors Association, and they rotate the chair between a Democrat and a Republican. And Governor Polis is the vice chair. But Governor Cox sets the kind of theme for the year for the National Governors Association, and his thing is: how do we disagree better? Which is obviously where this question comes from. And if you’ll humor me for a minute before we dive deeply into their question, I wonder if you’ll do a quick exercise with me to demonstrate something.
DUCKWORTH: Oh my gosh, totally. I’m like, loosening up my shoulders just listening to you. I don’t know if I need that, but yes! I’m game.
MAUGHAN: It’s not a real exercise, but I do appreciate that we’re stretching right now.
DUCKWORTH: Yeah, I was going to say, like, I’m going to loosen up the pectoral muscles.
MAUGHAN: Loosen up the joints. So, there’s a woman named Julia Dhar — managing director at Boston Consulting Group and the global lead of B.C.G.’s Behavioral Economics and Behavioral Insights Initiative. And she gave a TED Talk called “How to Disagree Productively and Find Common Ground.” And in there she said, “I ask people at the outset of a conversation, of a meeting, whatever, to pre-commit to the possibility of being wrong.” I love that idea. My parents always called this the “sin of certainty,” because I think among my siblings it’d be like, “I’m right. No, I’m right.” And it was like, “You all suffer from the sin of certainty. Maybe you’re all wrong.” Right? So, she said in this TED Talk, she says you have to pre-commit to the possibility of being wrong. So, this is a question I’m stealing from a dear friend, but what is something that you used to believe, even maybe believe strongly but no longer do?
DUCKWORTH: So, I don’t know Julia Dhar. I think it’s interesting that she uses the word “pre-commit,” because I will say that “pre-committing” actually has a very technical meaning in behavioral science. It means when you create a penalty for yourself in the future if you don’t follow through on what you’re doing. So, it’s interesting — I don’t know if Julia Dhar means that people, like, take a $20 bill out of their wallet and, you know, put it on the table and say, like, “If I am judged by this group as having committed the sin of certainty and not even being open to the possibility of wrong, then you can take my $20.” That would be true pre-commitment. But I will try to introspect and think of a time where I was guilty of the sin of certainty, and then I’m wondering if I can think of a time where I was redeemed by having recognized my mistake. It certainly wouldn’t be about anything political, only because I haven’t actually had strong and informed opinions about anything political.
MAUGHAN: I think it can be about anything, right? Just something you used to believe, but no longer do. I’ll give you an example from mine.
DUCKWORTH: Yeah, you go first? Can you model this and be vulnerable?
MAUGHAN: Well, I don’t know how vulnerable, but I remember years ago, a bunch of my friends were posting on social media that they were running these overnight relays. And basically it’s a 24-hour relay that goes over 200 miles, and there are 12 people, and you each have three legs. So, runner number one will run the first leg, the 13th leg, right? You just rotate over time. You have these two vans. And I remember sitting there looking at their stuff thinking that is the dumbest thing I’ve ever seen. Who would want to run through the middle of the night for a day and a half?
DUCKWORTH: Plus you have to be in van. Like, the time that you’re not running, you’re, like, in the van —.
MAUGHAN: And you know exercise, your body is warm, and then it gets cold. So, you’re tightening up and your muscles are getting sore. And then it’s like, “Okay, it’s 2 a.m., now go run another 10 miles and then get back in the van with no sleep, drive to the next place.” And I just thought this is the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard of. Fast forward, I have done eight of those all over the country, and I loved them.
DUCKWORTH: So, you changed your mind.
MAUGHAN: Yeah, it was just something that I used to believe was really dumb, but I, I no longer believe that. It’s a simple exercise, but the reason I, I ask it at the beginning of this conversation is I think so much of learning to disagree better is just acknowledging that maybe what we think we believe so strongly could be wrong. Maybe if I was wrong on a simple thing like running overnight relays, might there also be a place where I felt a total knee-jerk reaction to X or Y where I’m wrong again?
DUCKWORTH: So, I guess the most personal thing for me would be, you know, in my research on grit, I got very taken with the idea that high achievers are people who are kind of indomitable in their will, and they are obsessive in their pursuit of a single goal. So, what’s very hard for me is to then be criticized for this research, right? It’s just really — I mean, it makes me defensive, to be honest. I’m like, “What? You don’t believe that this is true?” But when I think about meeting — I want to say he was a, a young academic, but it was years ago, so this is somebody who’s now a professor. His name is Anindya Kundu. And I met him because he had written, I think, like, an op-ed? It was an essay on how my perspective on grit and achievement was limited and perhaps misguided. Now he was a sociology Ph.D. student at N.Y.U. and his training and his perspective said: it’s not about indomitable will and the individual against all odds. It’s about social structures. It’s about societal opportunity — or the lack thereof. You know, he was a sociologist, so he was thinking about everything that is outside of the individual, like the system. And he thought that my psychological perspective, you know, “What are their mindsets? What are the habits of these high achievers? You know, what is their motivational structure?” He thought that was at best myopic, and at worst dangerous. So, when I read that, I absolutely was probably committing the sin of certainty. I was just like, “I’m right. And who is this kid, you know, like, who’s critiquing my research?”
MAUGHAN: And? Did you change?
DUCKWORTH: You want to know the ending of the story? Like, I went and kicked him in the shins? I wish I could tell you that it didn’t hurt my feelings and I didn’t feel emotional and defensive, but that would be a lie, because I absolutely have feelings, and I, I feel wounded, you know, when someone critiques my work. But, I will say that there is at least enough maturity in me to recognize what the right thing to do is. So, I remember thinking, well, this is a Ph.D. student and I’m already a professor. You better do the right thing. And the right thing is not to be intimidating, and not even to be defensive, because that could be really devastating, honestly, I think for, like, a young academic in training. So, I reached out and I said, “You know, I’d like to hear more.” And I also said, “Look, I don’t have any sociology training. Like, I don’t even know what sociology is.” And so, I got together with him on many occasions and he eventually asked me to be on his dissertation committee.
MAUGHAN: Wow, okay, that escalated quickly.
DUCKWORTH: It did! I was like, “Okay, like, sure.” So, I went to his defense. I read his thesis. I provided input, you know, just my perspective. He was doing a lot of interview research of first-gen college students, you know, students who had been socially mobile — like, they had kind of climbed up society’s ladder. And as a sociologist, he was looking not just at, you know, their mindsets, and their habits, and the things that were between their ears. He was looking at what was around these people, you know, who are the people who supported them? What were the structures in place? So, I learned a ton. He had a really famous Ph.D. advisor named Pedro Noguera. So, I had the luxury of learning about sociology for the first time from really some of the best sociologists. So, did I change my mind? I think I went this far. I was able to change my focus — my center of attention — from what I was studying, what’s inside the head, to what was around people. Like, “Oh yeah, who were their mentors — or lack thereof? Did they have good teachers — or lack thereof? What about, you know, financial realities?” These are all things that are outside the head. And, yeah, I mean, I will say that moving my attention outside of what psychologists dwell upon to the larger picture enabled me to put my work in perspective. I don’t know that I changed my mind about the reality that you have to pursue something with perseverance and passion to get anywhere, but I did feel like I had been incomplete. So, there was a kind of widening of my perspective.
MAUGHAN: I love that example. I think it’s really interesting, and I think it’s really important to point out that these two governors who are asking this question — Governor Cox wrote about this initiative to the National Governors Association. He said, “Americans need to disagree better. And by that, we don’t mean that we need to be nicer to each other, although that’s helpful. We need to learn to disagree in a way that allows us to find solutions and solve problems instead of endless bickering.” And what I think about in the business world is we talk all the time about healthy conflict. Because if we’re going to get to the best answer, we need to be able to discuss it. And I’ll never forget — Jared Smith is one of the founders of Qualtrics. We were sitting down my second week there. I was about to launch this new product line, and I had done a thorough review of everything. Jared has my powerpoint deck. We’re going through slide by slide. And he’s saying, “What about this, da, da, da,” and we’re arguing back and forth, and we’re having this conversation. And by about slide seven or eight, I feel pretty beat down.
DUCKWORTH: Why? He’s criticizing what you’re saying, or what?
MAUGHAN: Just because we’re, we’re having this disagreement. But I have the perspective that Jared is shutting me down. He has the perspective that we’re having a really good conversation that will get us to a better place, right?
DUCKWORTH: Yeah, he’s probably excited.
MAUGHAN: I remember by slide eight or nine, I’m just taking notes at this point basically. And he stops. He sees what’s happened. I’m a freshly minted M.B.A., and he’s this former Google exec. He’s a big deal, and I’m just like whatever. And he says, “Mike, if you stop pushing back on me, we will never get where we need to go.”
DUCKWORTH: Oh, he felt that you were backing down, as it were, that you were not saying everything that you thought, because you were trying to get to harmony. And he was like “No, keep at it.”
MAUGHAN: 100 percent. And it was one of the greatest gifts he ever gave me early in my career was to say, “Your job is to have healthy conflict.” And I think what we have found in this country — I’m guessing what these two governors are asking with this question and with the initiative they’re proposing — is I think so often in life, we’re taught how to get along, but we’re not taught how to disagree. And so, they’re saying we need to learn to disagree better. And the goal isn’t that we have no conflict. People have different points of view and that’s fine. Their point is not that we don’t disagree, but we have to figure out how to have healthy conflict, but do it in a way that’s productive. And, I will say, on the business side, if you’re willing to push back in the right way, then you get to the best answer. But if it’s just, like, order takers, then you’re never going to do anything big.
DUCKWORTH: And by the way, I think there are different endings to that movie. Like, you know, agreeing eventually is one ending, but there’s another ending to that movie that you could argue is still positive, which is just staying in disagreement, but at least understanding the other person’s perspective. So, the science on this is interesting. I mean, maybe the first psychologist who thought long and hard enough about it to really understand why people disagree and why it’s so persistent is a psychologist who’s no longer alive. He was at Stanford, and his name was Lee Ross. And Lee Ross was truly one of the greatest social psychologists to ever live, and one of the last things that he wrote before he passed away was a kind of retrospective of, like, everything he’s learned as a psychologist.
MAUGHAN: “Here’s the reader’s digest of my life’s work.”
DUCKWORTH: I love articles like this, by the way, because also, you know, typically they’re written with the kind of like, “I am just going to put it all out there because I can, you know. I am not some young whippersnapper. I can do whatever I want and I’m going to tell you what I really think.” And what he talked about was “naive realism,” which is that when you have a perspective on anything — even when you, like, look at something, you’re like, “Oh, you know, that’s a bottle, you know, that’s a duck, like, that’s a whatever” — like, you look at it, and it feels like you are directly experiencing reality, like, it’s just truth. It never feels to you like, “Oh, that’s my subjective view. Like, I think it’s a cup, or I think it’s a duck, or whatever.” Like, it’s like, it’s got the feeling of just truth. And he thought that that was true about our beliefs as well, politically. So, if I believe a certain thing about the way this country should go in this next election, or I believe a certain thing about international politics, in your visceral experience, it doesn’t feel like an opinion. It just feels like fact, and that’s naive realism. And I think the consequence of it is like, well, if it feels like ground truth, then no wonder when you encounter another human being who has a view that is 180 degrees from yours, no wonder it’s so hard for you to disagree, because it’s like disagreeing about, like, the color of the sky. You’re like, “Wait, how can you not see that, right?” It’s very frustrating.
MAUGHAN: That’s why I loved that principle from this woman at B.C.G. just saying, “Hey, all I’m asking is that you say maybe I’m wrong.” I’m sure you’ve seen the movie 12 Angry Men?
DUCKWORTH: I have not seen the movie 12 Angry Men. That sounds like a movie I would not see, by the way.
MAUGHAN: It’s a classic!
DUCKWORTH: 12 Angry Men? Wait, is that John Wayne?
MAUGHAN: No, no, no, no, no. It’s a classic. I don’t know the actor. He’s very famous. But this is a movie from probably the 1950s, and it’s a jury trial. There are 12 — I think only men could serve on juries back in the day, which is a tragedy, but so, 12 Angry Men. And it’s this jury trial of a man who’s been accused of murder. And they walk into the jury room, and 11 of the jurors are like, “Ah, guilty, done, we don’t even need to discuss.” And the main character, he just invites the other 11 people to admit that maybe, maybe their immediate knee-jerk reaction to the evidence — which was poorly presented, the lawyer didn’t represent the kid well, da, da, da, da, da — all he says is, “I’m just asking you to believe that maybe it’s possible that there’s a different story here.” And by the end of the movie, the case against the young man is completely unraveled, everybody realizes he’s not guilty. He’s been set up. But it was just because one man said “Hey, I want everyone else in this jury room to think that it’s possible that maybe it’s not like this.” Anyway, look, I think Angela and I would love to hear about conversations you’ve had with people that you disagree with, and tell us about the experiences that went well and maybe the ones that didn’t go so well. How can these interactions be not only civil but positive? So, record a voice memo in a quiet place with your mouth close to the phone and email it to us at NSQ@Freakonomics.com, and maybe we’ll play it on a future episode of the show. Also, if you like the show and want to support it, the best thing you can do is tell a friend, maybe even a friend you disagree with. You can also spread the word on social media or leave a review in your podcast app.
Still to come on No Stupid Questions: Mike and Angela discuss the difference between disagreeing online and disagreeing in person.
MAUGHAN: You see a very sweet tweet about, “Hey, happy anniversary to my spouse.” And then the comments are just like, “I hope you burn in hell.”
* * *
Now, back to Mike and Angela’s conversation about how to disagree better.
DUCKWORTH: So, I don’t know whether you’ve heard of “adversarial collaborations.” It’s one of Danny Kahneman’s inventions but has gotten less attention than, like, Thinking, Fast and Slow, and cognitive biases, and so forth.
MAUGHAN: I’ve absolutely heard of it. I think it’s a fascinating concept. Tell us about it.
DUCKWORTH: You know, Danny is a Nobel laureate psychologist. He got the Nobel Prize, of course, in economics. But most psychologists that I know would say, you know, he’s, perhaps the greatest living psychologist. He has this term called “adversarial collaboration.” So, what an adversarial collaboration is when two rivals, you know, two people on opposite sides of an issue — they get together and they commit to some endeavor where they’re going to basically be able to resolve their disagreement on one side or the other. But they commit in advance to saying, like, “Look, we agree that, like, if the data come out this way, I’m right. If the data come out your way, you’re right.” Essentially, it’s trying to lay down in plain terms an agreement to the rules of the game, without knowing what the outcome of the game is.
MAUGHAN: It sounds like a duel. Sounds like Hamilton.
DUCKWORTH: Well, a little bit. Instead of a duel where you shoot each other, you collaborate on some study design, and the term is an invention of Danny Kahneman’s. In fact, the very idea is an invention. And it came out of, you know, his own experience. I mean, a lot of his work was about disagreements that he had about a topic that he was studying, you know, disagreements he would have even with his close collaborators. I mean, he talks about a disagreement he had with his late wife, Anne Treisman, because she was a eminent scholar and they would, like, disagree about what an interpretation of a finding would be. And he thought to himself, like, “How is this movie going to end?” And he was like, well, usually it ends with what he would call ‘angry science,’ right? Like, it usually ends with a lot of emotion and people budging zero inches from the original position and just kind of, like, walking back to their corners and that’s the end of the movie. And he thought like, well, maybe if you had an adversarial collaboration, you can have a different ending to the movie, which is that either you both walk back to one person’s corner and you’re like, “Oh, I’ve got to admit, I was wrong,” or the other person’s corner, or potentially that there’s some understanding of what is really going on that accommodates both people’s positions, you know, “In this respect, I was wrong. In this respect, you were wrong. Together, we both learned the following.”
MAUGHAN: Well, that’s what I loved about your previous story was you said you basically took a step back, you added more context. I’m sure you’ve heard the old analogy about the five blind people who are all touching an elephant. And they’re describing its — “Oh, it feels like this. It’s a thin little whippy thing.” Well, someone’s on the tail. And someone else is touching a leg and “No, it’s a tree trunk of a —” whatever. And they’re all describing it differently from their experience, and sometimes it sounds like adversarial collaboration — yeah, maybe I’m going to go to your corner because I was wrong. Maybe I’ll go to the other corner because they were wrong. But maybe we just zoom out. And we’re all right with different context. So, you know, it’s a “both/and.”
DUCKWORTH: Much better than either/or. I mean, if you ask me how well adversarial collaborations actually work, first of all, I will say one limitation of adversarial collaborations is that people don’t do them very much. Like, he debuted this idea — you know, like, Danny Kahneman is, like, the Beyoncé of social science, so you would think that everyone would be like, “Oh, my gosh, let’s do an adversarial collaboration.” Because most scientists have an adversary of some kind, right? It’s rare that you’re studying something and you have, like, no critics — that there’s nobody on the opposing side. So you would have thought that one mark of success for this invention would be the take up of adversarial collaborations, and they are exceedingly rare. and actually, by the way, like, it’s not fun to work with another person who’s on the other side of an issue. It’s hard. It’s really, really hard.
MAUGHAN: And I think that’s why it happens so little. Because it takes work and it takes effort. But I do think that that element of what these governors are talking about — that we need to enshrine disagreement, but just know how to do it better — is so important. And that’s where this self-help book called Conflicted: Why Arguments are Tearing Us Apart and How They Can Bring Us Together is really helpful.
DUCKWORTH: Who wrote this?
MAUGHAN: Ian Leslie, a journalist and corporate communicator, wrote this book. He said “The only thing worse than having toxic arguments is not having arguments at all.” Because productive disagreements “neither reinforce nor eradicate a difference, but make something new out of it.” “Humans cannot aspire only to put our differences aside. They must put them to work.” So, you know, one thing I want to talk about is: what do we do to disagree better? How do we actually do it? And here are some of the things that I found really interesting from a variety of really random sources. They’re helpful, non-research based, but trial and error in life situations. So, there was an Apple employee who had worked at you know, the Apple store where people come in all the time with, “My very expensive phone, or my very expensive computer, or something’s broken.”
DUCKWORTH: I go to the Apple store all the time. I’m one of those people who’s asking for help.
MAUGHAN: And he found that in those environments there are a lot of people who are frustrated, or angry, and he came up with a list of how to have productive conversations in maybe somewhat heated moments. For example, he said, “Replace ‘I know’ with ‘that’s true’ or ‘you’re right.’ Because it takes focus away from you and more on them,” right? “You’re right.” It goes through a bunch of things, but he said, “Here is the biggest thing I learned. No matter what the other party says,” he said, “I always start with, ‘I agree.’” And he said it just shuts everybody’s anger down. He said, even if you don’t agree at all, you just say, “I agree,” and then present the other side, or present whatever else you wanted to say. It’s this idea that people feel heard.
DUCKWORTH: There’s some overlap between that advice and research-slash-advice from Julia Minson, who’s a professor of public policy at the Kennedy School at Harvard — I think you have a degree from that institution.
MAUGHAN: My alma mater.
DUCKWORTH: Yes — David Hagmann, who’s a professor of management at Hong Kong University of Science and Technology and Kara Luo, who’s a Ph.D. candidate in organizational behavior at Stanford in the Graduate School of Business. And the three of them wrote an article, it’s empirical research, and it’s called “Cooling Heated Discourse: Conversational Receptiveness Boosts Interpersonal Evaluations and Willingness to Talk.” And essentially what they asked is, “Look, if you’re in a heated argument about a controversial topic, honestly, what can you do and what should you do?” And the overlap between what you just said and what they said is they have this acronym called HEAR, so H-E-A-R, and the H stands for “hedge your claims,” the E stands for “emphasize agreement” — not just say “I agree,” but find something that you do agree about. The A is “acknowledge the opposing perspective,” and the R is “reframing to the positive.” But at least where you were starting, this kind of “emphasize agreement” — I think there is research that suggests that, like, that can be great. I’m not sure I would just say “I agree” and then move on to my argument no matter whether I agree — I, I think it’s more like when you’re listening to someone, you have to hunt for things that you do agree with, and there’s going to be something. So, I think instead of just saying, “I agree,” I would be like, “Oh, I agree that —.” And then, move on, right?
MAUGHAN: Again, he’s just dealing in customer — angry customers, but I think you’re absolutely right in the broader sense for sure. I think another thing that people can do — there’s a professor at UC Berkeley named Julia Schroeder, and she said literally just listening to someone’s voice as they make a controversial argument is humanizing.
DUCKWORTH: What does that mean exactly — “listen to their voice”?
MAUGHAN: Having a literal voice make the argument versus so much of what we do is this toxic Twitter fighting, because we can so easily dehumanize each other online, but the act of just listening to someone say it makes us much less likely to dehumanize, obviously, because you hear an actual person making said argument, and then it makes us more willing to engage.
DUCKWORTH: You know, in my world, very rarely do people, like, call each other on the phone and say, “Hey, I read your paper and I see a problem.” Nobody has ever called me and said, “I have a problem with your paper.” People have written, “I have a problem with this paper.” You know, there’s an academic who said, “Oh, I don’t like the way that Duckworth has summarized these statistics.” And then they wrote about it, but I’ve never heard this person’s voice, because they never called me to say that. They just published it. But when you just raised that as even an idea, it had never occurred to me about what might be missing in that, like, just that moment of human connection. It’s more human to human if you have a voice, if not an actual, you know, three-dimensional human that goes along with the voice that you can see and shake hands with.
MAUGHAN: It’s amazing to me how much that changes things. I mean, I think about — you know, I’m friends with a bunch of politicians, and it’s so interesting, you see a very sweet tweet about, “Hey, happy anniversary to my spouse.” And then the comments are just like, “I hope you burn in hell” or — you know, and you’re just, “Oh, I mean, maybe not on this tweet.” Anyway, look let me just say, Governor Cox, who’s one of the two who asked us this question, when he was running for governor, he was running at the time of the Trump-Biden election, so in the U.S., feelings are at their peak, and people’s civility may be at its low point. And he and his opponent put out a commercial together. Stanford did research on it and showed that just by having the two of them appear together in the same commercial, saying, “Hey, we disagree on basically everything, but we don’t hate each other,” calmed political tensions dramatically. Just the act of appearing together. So, I do think there’s power to these things. And I would love, Angela, to tell you about my favorite commercial I’ve ever seen.
DUCKWORTH: Oh my gosh, yes.
MAUGHAN: I know most people have a favorite TV show, or a favorite movie or a — this is my favorite commercial. You ready for this? Heineken. I don’t drink alcohol, you rarely drink alcohol, and it’s a Heineken commercial.
DUCKWORTH: I know this commercial. And, by the way, believe it or not, there’s a social science angle to this, but go on.
MAUGHAN: I do believe that. For those who haven’t seen it, in 2017, they did a commercial called “Worlds Apart.” And it really went viral, took the world by storm. And, basically, they take three sets of strangers who are on opposite sides of some issue and know nothing about each other. And they put them in a room, and they have three steps. So, the first is the icebreaker. They have each other’s instructions for what they’re supposed to do and they build stools together. Step two is they have a Q and A session, and they, they go through two things: describe yourself in five words, name three things we have in common. And then, they enter step three, which is this bridge-building thing. And what they realize is that what they’ve actually built is a bar. And then the final instructions are, each of you take a bottle of Heineken, place it on its corresponding marks on the bar, and then Heineken plays a video of each of the two people from what they recorded before they came in. And they’re three sets of strangers here: the first set is a man who walks in and has said all these terrible things like, “feminism is man hating, etc.” And then, it’s a woman who said, “I would describe myself as a feminist 100 percent.” The next is a guy who’s like, “Climate change isn’t real, it’s stupid.” And the other person saying, “We’re not doing enough about it.” The third is a transgender woman. And then a man who is very — you know, “Transgender doesn’t exist. You’re a man or a woman da, da, da.” So, these people have been working together for 10, 15 minutes. They’ve collaborated on something. They’ve shared some personal things, and all of a sudden they see this video and then it says, here’s your decision: you can either leave, or you can sit down, and have a beer, and discuss your differences. And each of these three sets of strangers sits down. And I’ll never forget, the man who had started by saying, “Hey, I don’t believe that transgender is a thing” is speaking to this transgender woman. And he says at the end of the commercial, “I’ve always been brought up in a way where everything is black and white. But life isn’t black and white.” And there’s the old adage that it’s hard to hate up close. And think if we just were together a little bit more and willing to listen a little bit more, then like this Heineken commercial showed, even though we’re worlds apart, if we just listen to each other, we can come together.
DUCKWORTH: It’s a great commercial, and there were social scientists who are involved in a mega study — so a tournament-style study — where the idea was: how best do we strengthen democratic attitudes in the United States? Because whether you’re on the left or the right, I think we would agree that democracy is a good idea. But how do we strengthen democracy? And how do we agree, at least agree to disagree? Like, do this better? So, there was a mega study identifying interventions to strengthen Americans’ democratic attitudes. It was actually led by a very young academic named Jan Voelkel, who I know very well. He’s at Stanford. And in a tournament like this, you solicit ideas from whoever you want to. And in this case, they solicited ideas from not just scientists, but also from practitioners, right? So, people who are not Ph.D. scientists, but who had some experience in these sorts of issues. And one of the entries that did very well was basically having people watch the Heineken commercial. There’s so much psychological wisdom in that commercial. And by the way, unlike a really boring research paper, that commercial is so emotional to watch. Like, it makes you feel things. And I remember that one part of the commercial where the kind of, like, conservative guy, I think he’s seen as speaking, I guess, maybe to the transgender woman, like, he — it’s the third stage where they have the choice whether to sit down or leave, and she sits down to have a beer, and he starts walking away, and then he comes back. He’s like, “Just kidding.”
MAUGHAN: And they both laugh! They have a good laugh.
DUCKWORTH: They both laugh. And you laugh and, you know, you smile. So look, I don’t want to say that agreeing, disagreeing, agreeing to disagree — I don’t think it’s as easy as a beer commercial might make it seem, but I think it is possible. Like, adversarial collaborations, you know, maybe they didn’t go viral, but they’re still a thing, and people are doing them, and they’re hard. And I think there’s so much in that acronym HEAR about how to interact with somebody. And genuinely hedge your claims. Like, you know, when you’re not certain, you should signal that there could be limits to what you’re saying. Emphasizing agreement, acknowledging the opposing perspective, reframing things to the positive, avoiding negative words like “no, won’t, do not.” And then, I like what you just added. Um, I don’t know how to stick it into the acronym, but voice. I mean, oh my gosh, the next time you disagree with someone, maybe don’t text them. Maybe don’t tweet. Maybe don’t whip off an angry email. Maybe pick up the phone and, like, hear their voice and let them hear yours.
MAUGHAN: Tom Holland, who played Spider-Man, was quoting, I think, Christian Bale. But he said, “If you have a problem with me, text me. If you don’t have my phone number to text me, then you don’t know me well enough to have a problem with me.”
DUCKWORTH: No, that’s good, except for I would say maybe leave a voice memo.
This episode was produced by me, Rebecca Lee Douglas. And now here’s a fact-check of today’s conversation: In the first half of the show, Mike references the 1957 legal drama 12 Angry Men, but he can’t recall the name of the man who starred in it. He was thinking of Oscar, Tony, BAFTA, Grammy, and Golden-Globe-winning actor Henry Fonda.
He also says that he thinks the name of the film reflects that fact that only men could serve on juries at that time. It’s true that, for years, women were deemed too fragile to be exposed to the details of criminal cases. However, the story is set in New York, a state which legalized women’s right to sit on juries in 1937— two decades before the movie came out. In 1895, Utah became the first state to permit women to serve on juries, but it wasn’t until Taylor v. Louisiana in 1975 that the Supreme Court ruled that excluding women from jury service violates the requirement that members be drawn from a cross-section of the community.
Finally, Angela says that adversarial collaboration is Daniel Kahneman’s invention. It’s true that the famous psychologist coined the term, but he wasn’t the only one to come up with the concept. In 1988 Gary Latham, the former president of the Canadian Psychological Association, and Israeli psychologist Miriam Erez worked together to design a series of experiments to resolve a scientific dispute they were having about goal setting. Kahneman — unaware of this work — independently developed a similar protocol a decade later! That’s it for the fact-check.
Before we wrap today’s show, let’s hear some thoughts about last week’s episode on the relationship between creativity and happiness.
Jason ADAMS: Hi, this is Jason. I enjoyed listening to your episode about happiness and creativity. Listening to it, I had so many feelings! I co-wrote the song “Scotty Doesn’t Know,” which appeared in the movie Eurotrip in 2004. And despite some success, this song has not made my fortune as a musician. Your podcast didn’t really address the grinding austerity that is endemic to creative jobs. For lots of people, there’s a nasty tradeoff between the creative urge and making a living. I became a freelance software engineer myself to survive. This work can be dry and tedious. And sometimes you just cannot satisfy your creative urge with the work you do to subsist. I can say with some authority that creative work, like other work, has its ups and downs. It’s got its own tedium and agony. The great appeal of creative work, on the other hand, I think, is control and escapism. Creation offers the prospect, perhaps illusory, of controlling one’s reality. You can take refuge, however briefly, in a world of your own.
That was Jason Adams. Thanks to him and to everyone who shared their experiences with us. Thanks also to Governors Cox and Polis for submitting this question. And remember, we’d love to hear about conversations you’ve had with people that you disagree with — and how they went. Send a voice memo to NSQ@Freakonomics.com, and you might hear your voice on the show!
Coming up next week on No Stupid Questions: are we more lonely these days — or just more alone?
DUCKWORTH: Look how many people showed up for your birthday party! Are you kidding me? How could you be lonely?
That’s next week on No Stupid Questions.
* * *
No Stupid Questions is part of the Freakonomics Radio Network, which also includes Freakonomics Radio, People I (Mostly) Admire, and The Economics of Everyday Things. All our shows are produced by Stitcher and Renbud Radio. Lyric Bowditch is our production associate. This episode was mixed by Eleanor Osborne. We had research assistance from Daniel Moritz-Rabson. Our theme song was composed by Luis Guerra. You can follow us on Twitter @NSQ_Show and on Facebook @NSQShow. If you have a question for a future episode, please email it to NSQ@Freakonomics.com. To learn more, or to read episode transcripts, visit Freakonomics.com/NSQ. Thanks for listening!
MAUGHAN: Utah, traditionally speaking, is a very nice culture. I’m at the grocery store and someone’s like, “Oh, is that all you have in your cart? Oh, go ahead of me. Please go ahead. I’ve got more.” And I’m like, who are these people? Why — I don’t know you.
- Spencer Cox, governor of Utah and chair of the National Governors Association.
- Julia Dhar, managing director and partner at Boston Consulting Group.
- David Hagmann, professor of management at Hong Kong University of Science and Technology.
- Daniel Kahneman, professor emeritus of psychology and public affairs at Princeton University.
- Anindya Kundu, professor of educational leadership at Florida International University.
- Ian Leslie, British journalist and author.
- Kara Luo, Ph.D. candidate in organizational behavior at Stanford University.
- Julia Minson, professor of public policy at Harvard University.
- Pedro Noguera, professor of education and dean of the Rossier School of Education at the University of Southern California.
- Jared Polis, governor of Colorado.
- Lee Ross, professor of psychology at Stanford University.
- Julia Schroeder, professor of management of organizations at the University of California, Berkeley.
- Jared Smith, co-founder of Qualtrics.
- Anne Treisman, professor of psychology at Princeton University.
- Jan Voelkel, Ph.D. candidate in sociology at Stanford University.
- “Disagree Better,” National Governors Association initiative led by Spencer Cox (2023-2024).
- “Cooling Heated Discourse: Conversational Receptiveness Boosts Interpersonal Evaluations and Willingness to Talk,” by Julia Minson, David Hagmann, and Kara Luo (Preprint, 2023).
- “Megastudy Identifying Effective Interventions to Strengthen Americans’ Democratic Attitudes,” by Jan G. Voelkel, Robb Willer, et al. (Working Paper, 2023).
- Conflicted: Why Arguments Are Tearing Us Apart and How They Can Bring Us Together, by Ian Leslie (2021).
- “How to Disagree Productively and Find Common Ground,” by Julia Dhar (TED, 2018).
- “From the Fundamental Attribution Error to the Truly Fundamental Attribution Error and Beyond: My Research Journey,” by Lee Ross (Perspectives on Psychological Science, 2018).
- “The Humanizing Voice: Speech Reveals, and Text Conceals, a More Thoughtful Mind in the Midst of Disagreement,” by Juliana Schroeder, Michael Kardas, and Nicholas Epley (Psychological Science, 2017).
- “Worlds Apart,” ad by Heineken (2017).
- “Gritty Educations,” by Anindya Kundu (Virginia Policy Review, 2014).
- Thinking, Fast and Slow, by Daniel Kahneman (2011).
- “Experiences of Collaborative Research,” by Daniel Kahneman (American Psychologist, 2003).