By Yvonne Milosevic
Why do we hate it so much when we’re wrong? In large part, it’s because we’re sure that people will judge us and lose confidence in our abilities. With our status in jeopardy, we stubbornly reject any challenge to our point of view. To be proven wrong can bring shame and embarrassment and often stirs feelings of anger or defiance. If all that sounds uncomfortably familiar, it’s time to reframe your thinking. In his new book Think Again: The Power of Knowing What You Don’t Know, social psychologist and Wharton professor Adam Grant investigates why we struggle to update our ideas and opinions and how we can get better at it.
Acknowledge Your Blind Spots
In this wide-ranging interview published in Behavioral Scientist, Grant talks about the blind spots in our thinking and behavior and why we need to stop ignoring them. “Saying ‘I was wrong’ isn’t an admission of incompetence,” Grant explains. “It’s a sign that you have the humility to recognize your mistakes and the integrity to learn from them. The faster you acknowledge when you’re wrong, the faster you can move toward being right.”
Adopting this flexible mindset is critical for leaders. When you admit you don’t have all the answers, people trust you more. Grant’s research shows that when experts express doubt, they become more persuasive, not less. People see you as transparent and sincere—not stubborn and self-serving.
“When someone knowledgeable admits uncertainty, it surprises people, and they end up paying more attention to the substance of the argument.”
Don’t Be a Logic Bully
On a recent episode of Grant’s podcast WorkLife, film director JJ Abrams guest-hosts and interviews Grant about Think Again. During their conversation, Grant admits he’s been called a “logic bully” several times. At first, he wore that badge with pride. After all, he says, “That’s my job as a social scientist. I want to decimate your bad arguments with rigorous evidence and airtight logic.”
“The problem,” he admits, “is then I get too closeminded.”
In the book, Grant shares an anecdote about a former student who asked for advice about choosing a business school. Instead, he used several evidence-based arguments to explain to her why she shouldn’t go to b-school at all.
While his points may have been technically correct, they didn’t provide the emotional guidance she needed. As Grant explains, “[She said,] ‘You just overwhelmed me with rational arguments, and I don’t agree with them, but I can’t fight back.”
Sometimes, being right at another’s expense isn’t an effective negotiation strategy. If in doubt, just ask anyone in a relationship or who has kids.
Move Beyond Binary Bias
To say we live in polarized times is an understatement. We’ve retreated into our bubbles and surround ourselves with people, news, and views that confirm our own beliefs. Grant says he started writing Think Again under the assumption that the best solution to the polarization problem was to show people the other side.
“I now think that the both-sides perspective (…) actually exacerbates the polarization problem,” says Grant, “because it’s so easy for us to fall victim to binary bias.” That’s when you take a complex spectrum of attitudes and opinions and oversimplify it into two categories, he explains. Once that happens, people choose their tribe and tend to demonize the other side.
Instead, Grant says we need to complexify. “I do not want to have both-sides conversations anymore,” he declares. “Whenever somebody says, here’s the other side, my first question is: Can you tell me what the third angle and the fourth look like?”
Both in the book and his podcast, Grant explores what happens when we rethink how we arrive at our assumptions. Rather than trying to imagine the way the other side feels, consider how your thinking might change if your life circumstances had been different.
No matter how passionately I feel about a given issue, I could imagine having grown up in a family or in a country, or in an era, where, because of my experiences and the people that I knew, I might believe different things.
“Considering the possibility that we could hold different views, all of the sudden, it just destabilizes a lot of the stereotypes and prejudices that people hold,” says Grant.
Think Again: The Power of Rethinking Your Views
Think Again reminds us that it’s human nature to react in unproductive ways when faced with challenges to our beliefs. But we’ve got to ditch the know-it-all attitudes and fight the trap of confirmation bias. The best way to counteract these tendencies, says Grant, is to “detach your opinions from your identity.”
“Sometimes they’re accurate. More often, they’re wrong or incomplete,” Grant says. “And that’s part of what being not only a social scientist, but just a good thinker is all about.”