The brain loves novelty. Learning a new skill, trying an exotic meat, figuring out a new subway line: These all build brain “muscle,” or stronger connections. The more connections you acquire, the more unstoppable you become. The brain has a particularly voracious appetite for a good old-fashioned verbal spar, or friendly disagreement. It might be eye-roll inducing when that guy at the dinner party launches into a tirade about going vegan and why you should too (while your bone broth simmers at home in the slow cooker), but engaging with him may just sharpen your argument, teach you something new or eliminate previously acquired false logic. It’s a win-win, and your brain will bulge with neural delight.

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Social gatherings aren’t the only place to exercise your opinion muscles, as Margaret Heffernan describes in her TED talk, “Dare to Disagree.” According to Margaret, the best business relationships are built on bumping heads with colleagues. She cites Alice Stewart, the doctor who discovered that X-ray machines posed a danger to pregnant women, and Dr. Stewart’s partner, George Kneale, a statistician who claimed, “My job is to prove Dr. Stewart wrong.” Through their collaboration, Dr. Stewart was forced to look at her models in different ways, address conflict regarding her theories and gain the confidence she needed to know she was right about prenatal X-ray machine danger. Stewart and Kneale saw their disagreements not as a fight, but as a way of thinking through arguments thoroughly.

The key here is constructive conflict and resisting the urge to only seek people who share our opinions and backgrounds. It might require a great deal of patience and energy, but it also might spur creativity in our party banter and problem-solving in our relationships.

Was there ever a time you left a disagreement with a new outlook? Tell us in the comments!

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