Intellectual Dishonesty: Recognizing and Combating Toxic meeting culture

Learn how to spot dishonest behavior in other people’s replies and your arguments.

Hippo in the room

As someone who works in software development, I have been in countless meetings where essential questions are dodged, and those in positions of power dominate the conversation. One particular instance stood out to me when my team raised a crucial question about a new feature we were developing. Still, the head of software development avoided the topic and began discussing something else entirely. The frustration and feeling of being unheard were palpable among the team.

At that moment, I realized the importance of maintaining intellectual honesty in discussions. Recognizing the various fallacies used in these discussions is crucial, but finding ways to combat them is equally important.

Knowledge is power: five techniques for dodging questions

Understanding the various methods to avoid intellectual honesty is the first defense against manipulation in any discussion. After reading the five most common approaches, you can spot similar behavior in any toxic conversation.

One of the most common techniques to avoid answering a question is “dodging the question.” This can be done by completely ignoring the question or redirecting the conversation to a topic that is easier to discuss. For example, in a debate about the Clinton Foundation, Hilary Clinton might avoid answering the question by saying, “I did everything in this position to help our country. I am happy to talk about the Clinton Foundation.” While this response may be helpful in front of an audience, it does not address the question. Whenever somebody uses this technique, I feel frustrated and confused, as the original question was not answered, and the conversation was redirected to a different topic.

A more offensive technique is attacking. This involves turning things around before the other person can ask the question. This can be done by accusing the other person of not asking the correct question or by making it appear as though the other person is being unfair or unreasonable. Doing this shifts the focus away from the actual topic and onto the other person’s behavior. In my experience, this often creates a hostile atmosphere and makes it difficult to continue a productive meeting.

A slightly more subtle dodge involves choosing a keyword in the question and repeating it several times. This shows that the question has been answered, even if it has not. Similarly, responding with a joke diverts attention away from the topic. Whenever somebody opens with a joke I am left with a feeling of belittlement and that my questions do not have any value.

If the other side could have valid points, you can always talk them down. This involves discussing so many topics that the other person becomes overwhelmed and forgets the original question. This can be a very effective way to avoid answering difficult questions.

…and one honest way

The honest way to answer questions is to say “I do not know” or “I do not want to answer the question.”

The world dies from good intentions.

Even if it is not your intention to do harm and be dishonest, there is another way that you can be less truthful, even by accident.
I am talking about logical fallacies.

Logical fallacies are errors in reasoning. This website provides a long list.

These are techniques used to manipulate the audience’s perception of the situation. For example, bandwagoning involves pretending that millions of people believe something to increase the importance of the argument.

Similarly, false cause involves simply pretending that there is an explanation for something by using the word” because.” These are techniques used to manipulate the audience’s perception of the situation.

Other fallacies include black-or-white thinking, where only extremes are considered; loaded questions, where the answer is included; and anecdotal evidence, where one’s own experience is used to prove a point.

How to stop bad behavior

I stole this from the original article that made me write this summary
It is so good there is nothing to add.

  1. (Stop them.) “Let me stop you for a second.”
  2. (Gently point out the fallacy. E.g:) “I’m genuinely interested in understanding your point of view. But just because an authority figure said something, doesn’t mean it’s true.”
  3. (Rewind.) “Is there another way you can back this viewpoint up so that I understand?”

So please be honest, and do not forget to clap!