What About Our Relationship With Facts?

–The Fickle Relationship We All Have With Facts

The Relationship Between Facts and Understanding

If we cannot accurately gauge importance, we’ll face a serious disadvantage when trying to predict potential interactions or outcomes.

There are plenty of instances in life when simply knowing facts is sufficient for the task—exams in school, for example. Yet as we grow older, we deal with more complicated situations where it’s not enough to know. We must also understand.  Now, “understanding” can be a rather slippery concept to pin down. After all, understanding the French language is different than understanding calculus or someone’s feelings. But, broadly speaking, a crucial element for most types of understanding is the ability to determine significance and then deal effectively with the assigned meaning. If we cannot accurately gauge importance, we’ll face a serious disadvantage when trying to predict potential interactions or outcomes.

4 Strategies to Use Facts Effectively

Despite humanity’s fickle relationship with facts, accurate details do (and should) matter—especially when we’re trying to make decisions. Facts are also crucial when we’re trying to convince others to accept a particular point of view, a situation all of us are likely to find ourselves at one point or another. As such, applying these 4 strategies during conversations or debates can help you use facts more effectively:

  1. Accept Everyone Rejects Facts at Some Point. The first step to dealing with a challenge is to admit there is one. Each person on the planet has one or more biases that affect how we think, as well as how willing we are to change our minds. By keeping this idea in mind—that everyone, even you, will reject facts under the right circumstances—you’ll be better prepared to employ other tactics.
  2. Appeal to Emotions Before Facts. If you find yourself in a discussion with someone who’s adamantly holding onto a belief despite contradictory evidence, try understanding their feelings first. (If possible and reasonable to do so, of course.) Then, structure your appeal to address the emotion underlying the belief.
  3. Agree With What You Can. Even if you only concur with the smallest, tiniest portion of someone’s point of view, acknowledge that common ground out loud. (Again, if possible and reasonable to do so.) Employing this approach can help you turn the conversation into a partnership rather than something that’s potentially oppositional and thus threatening.
  4. Connect Facts to Stories. Rather than rattling off a list of facts to convince someone, place your evidence within a story that humanizes the more abstract details. People are more likely to respond to people, so speaking about experiences in combination with facts can be more persuasive.

While it might feel satisfying to counter someone’s unfounded belief with a barrage of facts, that approach is often not particularly effective. Especially when dealing with issues that touch on identity or emotions. Overcoming the instinct to protect ourselves and our interests is exceedingly difficult. By working with—rather than against—that inclination when feasible, we can ultimately facilitate more meaningful conversations and relationships.

And that’s a fact.

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Rebecca H. Bond, Ph.D.https://writelikeaphd.com/
Rebecca H. Bond earned her Ph.D. in US history from Louisiana State University, where she specialized in environmental history and policy. She’s published with professional journals and websites, and she also runs the writing blog, writelikeaphd.com. When she’s not binge-watching political or crime dramas on Netflix, she does freelance writing, content development, and editing. Her favorite topics of discussion include history, higher education, good writing practices, and personal development.

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  1. Rebecca, I listened to the “You Are Not So Smart” Podcast (one of my favorites on behavioral psychology) on the Backfire Effect. It was great. Your 4 strategies are more important than ever in this polarized country. It’s a strategy that would allow people to talk to one another without conceding defeat or trying to win-over the opposition. It is simply a conversation strategy. I would also add to #2, it’s not the emotion we should try to understand, but really the underlying reason for their belief. Emotion may really just be a symptom of something deeper. Often, emotions themselves are based in other factual beliefs or personal experiences.

  2. And therein lies the difficulty, Rebecca: How do we get smart or knowledgeable enough about which facts are true, even if they don’t fit our personal narrative — our confirmation bias? Our need to have been correct about what we thought was true is certainly huge for many (most?) of us.

    It’s a murky subject for sure, and thanks for the article!

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