by Morey Stettner
Opinions can sound like facts. If you’re not listening with critical ears, you might accept someone’s views as indisputable truth.
A confident speaker may declare, “This plan will backfire.” The certainty in her voice makes you a believer. So you conclude, “Yes, it will backfire.”
I’m sure you think you’re immune to such flimsy reasoning. And I’m sure you know the difference between a fact and an opinion. But you’d be surprised.
When you hear an assertion, ask yourself, “Where’s the proof?” If speakers provide solid evidence to support their claims, then at least you can assess the soundness of the evidence.
But be honest: Do you automatically question whether someone is supplying enough proof to substantiate a claim?
Many of us take what we hear at face value. If the message seems feasible and it’s delivered with passion, we’re apt to take it on faith.
Even facts can deceive. If you hear an eye-opening statistic, inquire about the source. Speakers who cite the precise origin of their information—and make it easy for you to confirm it independently—should stand out in your mind as particularly credible.
Dubious facts, by contrast, are hard to pin down. The speaker might admit he doesn’t recall where he read it or he’s unsure of the details.
Ideally, bloviators would preface their remarks with “I think.” But they often skip that part. You’re left to distinguish between what’s verifiable and what isn’t.
When you hear an opinion, learn more. Ask how the person arrived at this view or for examples that support the conclusion. The ensuing discussion can help you assess one’s critical reasoning skills.