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Are you Afraid to Engage your Friends in a Political Discussion Anymore?

Solve the Problem with Adversarial Collaboration

Summer is the season for barbeques and poolside gatherings with family and friends, but some of us may be concerned that unintended arguments may erupt at these events. Have you ever found yourself part of a conversation that heated up quickly and accomplished nothing? Have you ever witnessed how a divisive comment sparked conflict at a family gathering? Do you feel as if it is becoming impossible—even dangerous—to talk about politics or current events in mixed company? You are not alone! The art of reasoned dialogue seems to be dying, and we need help finding a way to revive it.

One solution is to employ Adversarial Collaboration techniques. They were first developed by Richards J. Heuer, Jr. when he was working as a counterintelligence officer for the Central Intelligence Agency. At the time, Heuer found himself immersed in several highly contentious debates, and it prompted him to develop and refine some simple techniques, including:

Key Assumptions Check:  Ask your friends what basic assumptions they are making about the issue before discussing the merits of their positions or the policy options currently under consideration.
Mutual Understanding: Get your friends to agree to describe your position—and why you think that—until they get it right, and then try to describe their position—and their line of reasoning—until they say you got it right. You may be surprised by how hard this is. One key benefit is that you quickly learn what facts or “alternative facts” each side is using to buttress its case.
Joint Escalation: If the issue is of utmost importance, take some time to jointly develop two short position papers that present both points of view AND that each side can accept as an accurate rendition of their position. Then present the papers to a neutral “referee” to evaluate.
The Nosenko Approach: Build a case for your position and have your friends build a case for their positions. Then stipulate which evidence each of you believes is of critical importance in making the case, and require the others to address it when compiling their argument. Share your position papers and vote on which one makes the most sense.

Learn more about these techniques in the Adversarial Collaboration chapter of Heuer and Pherson’s Structured Analytic Techniques for Intelligence Analysis, 2nd ed., available from our Analyst’s Bookshop.

If you want to know more about the man who developed these Adversarial Collaboration techniques (and many others), check out the recently-published memoir Rethinking Intelligence: The Life and Public Service of Richards J. Heuer, Jr. The 86-page memoir chronicles Heuer’s ground-breaking contributions to the intelligence profession and provides insights to the following questions:

  • What makes someone susceptible to recruitment as a spy?
  • How do I know I am being deceived?
  • What inspired Heuer to develop the Analysis of Competing Hypotheses (ACH) methodology?
  • How did Heuer come to recognize the implications of cognitive bias for intelligence analysis and write Psychology of Intelligence Analysis?
  • How have Structured Analytic Techniques (SATs) emerged as a new domain in intelligence analysis?
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Please note Globalytica is a separate entity from Pherson.