Steelmanning is all about helping your counterpart by crafting the best possible version of their argument. An iron-clad one to stay in the picture.
1. Create the Best Version of Your Counterpart’s Argument
Naturally, the more passionate you are about your own opinion, the more entrenched you are in your viewpoint, the harder it is to be open to the other side. Even though this is precisely the time when it’s most important.
It’s an exercise in curiosity and empathy. Here are some questions to break down the opposing side’s case. It’s guided by the State Explain Illustrate (SExI) method of building an argument:
What is the other side’s central point? What line of arguments do they bring forth to make their case? How would you rank-order them from best to worst? What are the main claims? What explanations, supporting evidence and examples do they cite? What are the emotional drivers, attitudes and beliefs, and motivations behind the viewpoint? What are the vulnerabilities and weaknesses in any of the above? How can we fix them?
2. Help Your Counterpart Steelman Their Argument
But if the best way to be exposed to a contradicting view is to hear it from the horse’s mouth, we better make sure we’re hearing the best possible version of it. Teaming up and steelmanning our counterpart’s position could look like this:
Listen to the line of argument of your counterpart. Ask questions for clarification. Identify the points they’re most passionate about. Take notes. Since our own views are still parked outside, we don’t fall into the trap of just waiting until we can express our own views. We can actually pay attention. Restate and reiterate your counterpart’s arguments. Do this until they agree with your representation of their position. Summarise their views and lay them out in such great detail that they discover aspects of their opinions they didn’t even notice themselves. Compare what was being said with your own findings from the first step of the challenge. Use this information to help your counterpart make new connections, uncover flaws in their thinking, find better examples, and discover new arguments that work in their favour.
3. Argue On Your Counterpart’s Behalf
The challenge is to act out our newly acquired wisdom so we understand what it means to hold and defend it. Here’s what we do: Re-write that essay from the beginning, adding what we’ve learned so far. Find someone from our own camp to debate on the issue, arguing against our original position. See if we can win the argument by convincing our opponent or an audience to side with our contrarian point of view.