The Value of Socratic Questioning

It is imperative that leaders learn to listen.

 I’m a liberal. Shouldn’t come as too much of a shock since I’m a Humanist and openly progressive. The reason I am saying this is because I want to talk about how Trever Noah, host of The Daily Show, used the Socratic Method on conservative vlog show host Tomi Lahren.  I want to talk about this not because I want to talk about politics, but because it was a beautiful example of the Socratic Method in practice in a situation where the two people talking couldn’t be further apart.

Leaders don’t lead by telling people what to do. Ok, maybe they do. But if they are telling people to do stupid things that people not only don’t want to do but that the people doing the work think is stupid, the leader won’t be a leader very long.

Good leaders, listen. They listen to learn. When we meet people who disagree with us, it is very tempting to argue to win. That’s not leadership. The reality is it is not always possible to convince people that you are correct and that they should abandon their side of the argument. Good leaders don’t always try to convince others to change their minds. Sometimes they use these disagreements to gather intelligence that they can then use to further their agenda later.

Until you know why your political or business opponents disagree with you, you can’t fix the problem. It is very easy to think the other person is an idiot who just doesn’t understand what you understand. Good leaders recognize that the other person is a human with the same basic capacity to reason and compassion as everyone else. Most people have VERY good reasons for holding the opinions they hold. True, it is possible those reasons are based on bad information, but in my experience, the problem isn’t with the moral reasoning. It’s a probably with what is understood to be true or false and unfortunately, we tend to get so upset arguing that we forget to find common ground.

This is why the Socratic Method is so helpful and why good leaders use it in situations where a disagreement seems insurmountable. It helps us learn why the other person thinks the way they do instead of assuming we know.

Enter the Trevor Noah/Tomi Lahren interview. The link I am providing is actually for a Vox commentary on it that discusses just why this interview was so interesting and important.

This wasn’t about finding common ground. It was about learning if the other person has logical reasons for holding the views they have. Sometimes, as Trevor found out with Tomi, she does and sometimes she doesn’t. The technique is to just keep asking for clarification.  If you want to see Socratic Method in action, THIS is what it looks like.

Either the other person will have good reasons for the things they believe, or they won’t. But before you go off half tilt convinced the other person is wrong, do yourself and them a favor and respect them enough to ask them questions. You may find out that you were right all along, but you will at least have more confidence in your views if you allow someone else to challenge them.

If you want to learn more about the science behind the Socratic Method and how to use this to win arguments without arguing, take my online course Socratic Jujitsu.

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