Radio

How to change entrenched positions in a climate of dogma and high dudgeon

We seem to spend a lot of our time these days rowing with each other without any willingness to give ground. Robin Ince looks at ways we can find mutual understanding

Put off venturing on to social media until 9.45am on a Wednesday, this will give you time to listen to Timandra Harkness’s How to Disagree: A Beginner’s Guide to  Having Better Arguments. Reason is currently out of fashion and people with actual, useful knowledge are being edged closer to the ducking stool as if expertise is witchcraft. There is a lot of lashing out followed by a shoring up of our positions, however fragile or preposterous they are. In each short and useful episode, Harkness talks to those who have to know how to argue effectively, whether they are scientists or negotiators. It all seems so obvious, but all the traits and positions discussed are so hastily lost in the desperation to be right.

In Episode Two, she imagined a desire for an excessive shed that would block out her neighbour’s sunlight, though she was keen to state to any other neighbours listening that it was hypothetical shed.

There is a lot of lashing out followed by a shoring up of our positions, however fragile or preposterous they are,

How do you change entrenched positions in our current climate of dogma and high dudgeon? Liz Stokoe, a professor of social interaction, tries to defuse simple neighbourly feuds over things like leaky gutters by offering a cheery openness during the first hints of confrontation. She shows that she is willing to talk. Sara Gorton from Unison is lead negotiator for NHS trade unions. She believes that she has a natural disposition to avoid conflict and yet has chosen a job where conflict always looms. She believes it is important to ensure you have a proper formal framework for disagreement, an aim to go beyond rhetoric and into dialogue.

In the attempt to break down the misunderstandings that become immoveable barriers in conflict, a neuroscientist advises Harkness to repeat back to your interlocutor what you believe they have just said. As anyone who has wasted a day in a Twitter spat will know, hours can be spent just trying to explain how your original post has been misunderstood. Just as Harkness’s hypothetical shed almost has its roof on, she speaks to a cognitive and behavioural scientist in Paris who reminds us that we may never succeed in getting people to agree with our position, but that we might find more harmonious ways of agreeing to disagree.

In arguments, we are often told we are living in a bubble. Radio can help you prick that.

In the following episode, Harkness looks at how scientific disagreements work which combine a platonic, harmonious view of scientific endeavour as a dispassionate search for truth, before a scientist adds that “there is no better motivation in science than ‘get that son of a bitch’”. I like the Utopian vision regarding  argument technique of “steer clear of personal attacks. Test yourself, and accept that sometimes you’ll be wrong”. Like two Samuel Beckett hobos, let’s wait until we see this style back in fashion.

In arguments, we are often told we are living in a bubble. Radio can help you prick that. Two footnote recommendations that make good pins for our possible preconceptions are Dangerous Crossings, a documentary on refugees seeking to illegally cross the Channel, and The Listening Project, my favourite Radio 4 eavesdrop into the lives of others.

How to Disagree: A Beginner’s Guide to  Having Better Arguments is on BBC Radio 4 on Wednesdays at 9.30am

Support your local Big Issue vendor

If you can’t get to your local vendor every week, subscribing directly to them online is the best way to support your vendor. Your chosen vendor will receive 50% of the profit from each copy and the rest is invested back into our work to create opportunities for people affected by poverty.
Vendor martin Hawes

Recommended for you

View all
Uncanny USA podcast host Danny Robins on Bigfoot, UFOs and why Americans scare differently to Brits
Danny Robins on set for Uncanny USA sitting on a rusty car
Podcasts

Uncanny USA podcast host Danny Robins on Bigfoot, UFOs and why Americans scare differently to Brits

Rick Edwards: 'I assumed I'd embrace being famous. I quickly realised that wasn't the case'
Rick Edwards
Letter To My Younger Self

Rick Edwards: 'I assumed I'd embrace being famous. I quickly realised that wasn't the case'

BBC cuts to local radio are a cost we cannot afford: 'Vulnerable people rely on radio'
A 1970s radio
Radio

BBC cuts to local radio are a cost we cannot afford: 'Vulnerable people rely on radio'

Shaun Keaveny: 'I was burnt out by the callousness and cruelty of this government'
Shaun Keaveny in a white t-shirt, smiling
Interview

Shaun Keaveny: 'I was burnt out by the callousness and cruelty of this government'

Most Popular

Read All
Renters pay their landlords' buy-to-let mortgages, so they should get a share of the profits
Renters: A mortgage lender's window advertising buy-to-let products
1.

Renters pay their landlords' buy-to-let mortgages, so they should get a share of the profits

Exclusive: Disabled people are 'set up to fail' by the DWP in target-driven disability benefits system, whistleblowers reveal
Pound coins on a piece of paper with disability living allowancve
2.

Exclusive: Disabled people are 'set up to fail' by the DWP in target-driven disability benefits system, whistleblowers reveal

Cost of living payment 2024: Where to get help now the scheme is over
next dwp cost of living payment 2023
3.

Cost of living payment 2024: Where to get help now the scheme is over

Strike dates 2023: From train drivers to NHS doctors, here are the dates to know
4.

Strike dates 2023: From train drivers to NHS doctors, here are the dates to know

The Big Issue

Sign up to get your FREE Doctor Who Archive Special

Celebrate the 14th series with your FREE edition of the Dr Who Special Archives