Wednesday, January 13, 2010

The Opposite of Meaning

I dug up a technique from the past last night. It is an idea so old I really do forget who taught it to me. If it is actually an original thought then I delight in taking all the credit. I fear it is not.

We were in a meeting and read a sentence in a report that caused some people to have a gut 'that's wrong' reaction. The sentence was phrased cautiously. It included the phrase 'It is questionable...' But it got to people and made them angry. No matter how hard I tried to suggest that it was a cautious opinion rather than an absolute we got a bit entrenched.

Here's the idea that sometimes breaks the log jam. If those who insist a statement is absolutely wrong will not budge then put it to them that in that case the opposite of the statement must be absolutely true.

An example.

It is questionable whether Bill will ever be fully able to do his job as long as Ron remains employed by this company.

'That's outrageous' scream the critics. 'Ron shouldn't be sacked. It's not his fault.' They miss the point. No-one is calling for Ron's sacking, but simply suggesting that Ron's very presence, for whatever reason, makes Bill's life difficult. But they don't get it.

So let's try the opposite. They should, if their argument holds, agree with that:

It is obvious that Bill will become fully competent at his job if Ron is dismissed.

Is it? Perhaps not. It is possible, but there may turn out to be more to it than that. It is certainly not obvious.

If the opposite is not completely right then the original premiss cannot be completely wrong.

There is still some work to do to find the exact truth but the two warring factions may have been moved a little closer to each other.

It's effective. It helped us move on last night.

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