Questions are a
pathway through disagreements.
Have you ever played
Battleship? You and your partner each arrange toy battleships on a grid. You
can’t see your partner’s grid and they can’t see yours. The aim of the game is
to ask questions that will reveal where your partner’s ships are located. What
do you do when you find their ships? Simple – you sink them.
Questions are an
essential part of your toolkit for having productive disagreements. They’re
pathways through arguments. They can open up perspectives, reveal anxieties,
broaden understanding, incite empathy, and sometimes even lead towards satisfactory
resolutions. Yet in our disagreements, many of us use questions poorly. We ask
closed questions calibrated to shut the discussion down. Or we ask questions
designed to confirm our own perspective instead of probing that of the other
person. In short, we use questions in arguments the same way we use them in
Battleship. To sink arguments. To win the game.
For a more productive
method of questioning, try turning to another well-loved game, Twenty
Questions. In this game, your partner thinks of a person, animal, or object.
Your goal is to work out what they’re thinking of using twenty questions or
fewer. Twenty Questions forces its participants to ask open-ended, imaginative,
unexpected questions. What’s more, it discourages its participants from asking questions
with a specific answer in mind.
When we ask
Battleship-style questions in a disagreement, we exercise an iron grip over the
dialogue. When we adopt the spirit of Twenty Questions, we loosen control of
the discussion and open up space for unexpected connections.
Imagine you’re a
committed skeptic, yet one day your friend admits they believe in ghosts. You
could ask a question designed to “sink
their ship
”, something along the lines of “What evidence do you have that ghosts exist?” Or, you could ask a
question that allows them to illuminate their perspective instead, something
like “What experiences brought you to
this belief?”
Sometimes this kind
of disagreement can even foster closeness and connection between friends. Think
of a friend that you always disagree with on the topic of cinema. It can be fun
to go to the movies together and argue about why you disagree. Even less
light-hearted arguments, for example political disagreements, can form the core
of a friendship. The key to having this kind of enjoyable disagreement? Asking
the right questions.
Choose a strong
debate partner for a robust, productive disagreement.
Do you want to win a
debate? It’s easy enough to do, with a strategy known as nutpicking. Find the
person on the opposing team who has the nuttiest, silliest arguments and then
demolish those arguments one by one. Done and dusted!
But when you win an
argument in this manner, you’re really losing opportunities for personal growth
and interpersonal connection. In short, by nutpicking, you’re squandering the
opportunity to have productive disagreement.
If you want to engage
in productive disagreement, you’ll have to try a different tack. When you’re
choosing your debate partner, don’t go for low-hanging fruit. Instead, choose
the wisest, most credible person whose opinion is opposed to yours and engage them
in discussion. You may find participating in this high level of debate
challenges your own argument in unexpected ways. As a result, you may modify
your own perspective. Then again, these challenges to your argument may only
serve to strengthen it. Either way, your horizons have broadened.
Best of all, engaging
in this level of debate can alert you to loopholes and blind spots in your own
reasoning. There’s a famous short story called “The Monkey’s Paw” by W.W. Jacobs that shows just how important it
can be to guard against loopholes in your own logic. A couple are given a
magical monkey’s paw and told it will grant them anything they wish for. The
catch? It will always find a loophole that allows it to grant the wish in a
different way than intended. The couple ignore this warning and took a chance,
wishing for enough money to pay off their debts. The next day, their grown son
is killed in a terrible workplace accident. As compensation, they receive a sum
of money that is exactly equal to the sum of their debts. 
When you choose a
debate partner look for the person who can be your “monkey’s paw,” highlighting the blind spots and flaws in your logic
that you can’t see for yourself. It might be easier to win against someone with
silly arguments – but you’ll gain a lot more when you pick your sparring
partner wisely!
By the way, this
topic is particularly important because at SHEGZSABLEZS’ blog, we roll out
series of activities that encourages healthy debates on current issues.

leave your thoughts and opinions in the comments box provided below.
a fruitful day!
Bodunrin is a graduate of Philosophy from the University of Ado-Ekiti. He is a
professional writer, he writes articles for publication and he anchors – ‘What
You Should Know’ on SHEGZSABLEZS’ blog.

You Should Know’ is a column that offers to educate and enlighten the public on
general falsehood and myths.

Oluwole Olusanya
Oluwole Olusanya is the Founder and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of one of the fastest-growing lifestyle and entertainment website in the country. He is a banker, writer, blogger, public affairs analyst and a tax consultant. He anchors Trending Topics on SHEFFA where he shares his thoughts and opinions on trending issues. He is currently studying for a Master’s Degree in Business Administration at the University of South Wales, Wales, United Kingdom. He has diplomas in Banking and Finance, Investigative Journalism, Creative Writing, and Linguistics from Lagos State Polytechnic, Isolo, Lagos, University of Strathclyde, Glasgow, Scotland and The Open University, Milton Keynes, United Kingdom.