On (Dis)Agreeing Well in Mythbusting

The line between myth and fact can often be challenging to discern. This ambiguity regularly fuels heated discussion in educational and popular discourses about concepts like direct instruction, power-posing, and emotional intelligence (Siegel, 2024b). To foster critically constructive interactions marked by appreciation, empathy, and authenticity (Rogers, 1957), it is valuable to understand and be able to use different forms of (dis)agreeing with othersβ€”and sometimes even with oneself.

In my research on this topic, I came across the hierarchies of disagreement by Graham (2008) and agreement by Wessel (2014). When writing an earlier version of this text, I actually wanted to integrate the illustrations of these hierarchies (that can be found on the internet in various forms), describe them, and explain how they can be used in mythbusting. Although I found them compelling, intuitively appealing, and comprehensible, I had a vague feeling of unease about them that I could not put into words at that time.

While writing the manuscript, I remembered a text by Asberger et al. (2022) which focuses on the question of how to recognize educational myths. In their text, the authors present seven heuristics, i.e., rules of thumb for identifying potential (educational) myths. One of these heuristics reads as follows:

“Educational myths are often found in pyramid-like representations of learning hierarchies, which you should always distrust”

(Asberger et al., 2022, 9, translation St.S.)

This immediately reminded me of the so-called Learning Pyramid or Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs β€” and also of the hierarchies of (dis)agreeing. The shared criticism of these hierarchical and pyramid-like representations is often that the individual forms cannot be strictly differentiated from each other and do not have to build on each other in this strict hierarchical manner (e.g., Asberger et al., 2022).

A simple counter-example illustrates this: In real-world scenarios, especially in political discussions, the most convincing argument doesn’t always prevail. Techniques like name-calling or ad hominem attacks, though less convincing, can be surprisingly effective due to emotional appeal or rhetorical strategies. This indicates that a strict hierarchical or pyramid structure may not fully capture the complexity and dynamics of debates.

This rule of thumb (for more heuristics see this cheat sheet has helped me, not to uncritically spread the hierarchies of agreement and disagreement, but to choose a new form of representation. The following interactive infographic illustrates various forms of agreement (right) and disagreement (left). Feel free to explore the individual forms of (dis)agreeing more or less well by clicking on the link below. You will be provided with a short description of and an example for each form:

Siegel, Stefan T. (2024). Some (More or Less Convincing) Forms of (Dis)Agreeing. CC BY 4.0 for IWP-HSG. https://app.Lumi.education/run/xgv2Gn

Concluding Thoughts

I would agree with Wessel (2014) that agreeing well is as important as disagreeing well. It is goal and context dependent what well means, however professional mythbusters should strive to use forms of (dis)agreeing that add value to a discussion. In this way, they might precautionary ensure that they are not being shot (Siegel, 2024a).

Professional and convincing dissent includes offering relevant counter-arguments, providing explanations for why a particular belief is incorrect, and proposing alternative explanatory models, e.g., in the form of refutations (Lewandowsky et al., 2020). In contrast, professionally agreeing with others should involve adding relevant arguments and/or refining and clarifying the main argument for better understanding a phenomenon.

All in all, certain forms of (dis)agreeing can be considered to be more useful (from the perspective of the speaker) for showing and promoting intellectual integrity and critical thinking, advancing discussions through constructive dialogue, and facilitating more informed conversations.

πŸ“š References

OpenEdition suggests that you cite this post as follows:
Dr. Stefan T. Siegel (June 21, 2024). On (Dis)Agreeing Well in Mythbusting. Evidence-informed Sustainability Education (EvSusEd). Retrieved July 17, 2024 from https://evsused.hypotheses.org/1257

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