Practicing scales is an elegantly simple way to get a read on where someone stands along a continuum. It’s useful for illuminating the nuances in disagreements that sound polarized.
When arguments sound black and white, it’s time to find the gray.
Watch people argue and you’ll notice that they start appearing rigid pretty quickly. They seem certain of their point of view. They seem clear in their position. Sometimes, they sound completely unwilling to change their position.
But scratch the surface of most arguments and we discover that even when words and tone convey certainty, the reality is anything but. It’s the pushback in arguments that makes us dig in our heels and hides the nuances and gray in our point of view.
We can change this dynamic with a simple, quick question that I call Practicing Scales. The question invites the other person to place themselves along a continuum.
A real conversation always contains an invitation. You are inviting another person to reveal herself or himself to you, to tell you who they are or what they want.
We practice scales by asking questions like these:
- “On a scale of 1-10, how sure are you that your picture of the problem is complete and accurate?”
- “On a scale of 1-10, how willing are you to consider additional ways to solve this problem?”
- “On a scale of 1-10, how willing are you to take my point of view into account?”
- “On a scale of 1-10, how committed are you to the agreement/plan/solution we’re considering?”
With questions like these, we give the other person the opportunity to reconsider their black-and-white debate — or what seemed to our ears to be black-and-white debate. Many times, they won’t say “10” as their reply, giving us wiggle room to explore.
Practicing scales with questions like these is also useful for helping a team or group think thoroughly through a problem, particularly sample scales 1 and 4.
Don’t try to practice scales when the conversation is heated. You’ll get “10” in reply because they’re not likely to expose doubt when they’re irritated with you. Practice scales after the heat subsides.
Practicing scales works even better when you share where you stand on the same scale you are asking them about. This will show them the gray in your own thinking and give both of you even more wiggle room to work with. Sometimes, it’s helpful to offer your own shade of gray first.