Maryland Forward Party

PEP Talk Core Principles: Six Ways To Disarm Political Fights - Double Aces

18 April, 2024

Developed by Pete Oliver-Krueger, head of our Priorities and Policies Committee, the Prioritizing Epic Problems (PEP) Talk is a fresh approach to politics, encouraging constructive dialogue, bridging divides in political discourse and reaching consensus on identifying pressing issues. This is Part 6 of 6.

Double Aces (a.k.a. Appreciations & Clarifying Questions)

I guarantee this 1 technique will change your life. It’s called the Double Aces and it’s our 6th tip for turning an Argument into a Collaboration and we’ve saved the best for last. What’s even better about this technique is that the other people in your life don’t have to know anything about it, and it will still make your life a lot better. Now before I can tell you how the technique works, I first have to tell you why it works.


A conscious listening technique based on the research of Nobel Prize winner Daniel Kahnemann, professional mediation techniques, and multiple elements of Positive Psychology. If you are in agreement (in harmony) with someone else, you express Appreciations, then ask Confirming Questions, before offering any Enhancements. If you disagree with something, you first Acknowledge it, then ask Clarifying Questions, before offering Evolutions to the idea.


Our brains are biologically wired as a “difference engine” which is a technical term which means that the first thing we see/hear is what is wrong or missing from the current situation. This part of our brain operates faster than anything else, including the “logical” part of our brain. Since this is the first thing that our brain “sees” this is also often the first thing that we say, i.e. everything that is wrong about what we just saw or heard.


Immediately hearing what is wrong with everything you are saying or doing can become very emotionally taxing. What might be wrong may also be only a small fraction of what the person is doing or saying. Focusing on what’s wrong first makes the other person feel like everything they say is “wrong” and inspires pushback. It is very common to people to feel unheard, and to believe that if the other person could just understand the other parts of their argument, they would hold the same opinion. As a result, they push and push, and talk more and more, and the more you argue, the more insistent they can get.


Speaking in biological terms, we first see what is “wrong” in the other person’s words or actions and we often immediately describe what’s “missing” back to the other person. They see what is “wrong” in our response and immediately tell us. Before too long this sparks a chain reaction where both sides are trying to convince the other side that they are “wrong” and nobody is listening anymore.


If we are lucky, someone will notice that the other person has misheard or misunderstood something and ask a Clarifying or Confirming question to set the record straight. This forces the brain to slow down and use its neocortex (or “logical brain”) to sort through the information, and put things in order.


If we are really lucky, the other person will begin to see the areas where there is agreement or appreciation. If we reach this stage, then we might reach an opportunity for collaboration or at least compromise. Unfortunately, though, debates bog down in the first step (“what’s wrong”) or the second step (“clarifying”) and very seldom make it to the third step (“appreciation” or “acknowledgement”).


Appreciate or Acknowledge: Something almost magical can happen, however, if we simply go against our natural instincts and reverse the order of the conversation. While it is not biologically “natural”, if we consciously look for where we agree with the other person first, or spend the time up front to let the other person know that we have heard their words, the rest of the conversation often goes much easier. We do not have to agree with the other person, only let them know first that they have been heard. As retired FBI hostage negotiator Chris Voss says, you can Acknowledge and listen to the other side without giving in to any of their demands. Many people are just fighting to be heard (including terrorists), and will stop fighting once they know that they have been heard.


Clarifying or Confirming Questions: Another great way to let someone know that they have been heard, and get ahead of misunderstandings is to follow up acknowledgements with clarifying or confirming questions. Even if you think that you understand what the other person is saying, ask a Confirming Question anyway. In our experience when people ask confirming questions, half of the time they find that their understanding was based on assumptions that get fixed through confirming questions.


Enhancements or Evolutions: Once we are on the same page, the last technique that helps build collaborative thinking is to add to the ideas of the other person instead of throwing them away or replacing them with our own. In the world of Improv Acting this technique is called “Yes, And”. Actors are taught to accept the idea of their scene partners and add to it. Look for what you can use in the contributions of others. After all, often a lot of time and effort went into the building of their ideas, and enhancing or evolving their ideas can be seen as a sign of respect.


The Origins of Double Aces: This idea of offering Appreciations first came from teachers working with younger students. Young students can get overwhelmed with new tasks and ideas. A great way to encourage them to keep trying is to give them lots of encouragement and praise, then ask them questions about how they are thinking about the problem, before offering suggestions. Teachers called this “Praise, Question, Polish”. Eventually they were so used to doing this with kids that they instinctively started doing “Praise, Question, Polish” or “PQP” with each other during meetings and staff development. In doing so, they discovered that this approach had nothing to do with age, but was really just an awesome way of collaborating.

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