‘You can’t say that!’: how to argue, better

A good debate isn’t about one person declaring victory, it’s about both people making a discovery, says psychologist Adam Grant

• What happened when we paired up celebrities across the political spectrum?

A few years ago, I had an argument with a close friend who had decided not to give his children any vaccinations. To preserve our relationship, I vowed never to talk about vaccines with him again. When Covid-19 arrived, I broke that vow. For the next nine months, we duked it out in email threads so long that we ran out of new colours for our replies. One day, he made a comment that caught me off guard. We’d argued more in the past year than we’d spoken in the preceding decade. “I don’t know about you,” he wrote, “but I love it.”

He wasn’t alone. I found myself looking forward to our cognitive cage fights. Instead of pushing us apart, arguing brought us closer together. And rather than closing our minds, we both opened up. We admitted we were wrong on some points – and discovered harmony on others.

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