Julia Dhar: How to Disagree Productively

A TED Talk Project

This is one of those notebook/compost heap writings. You’re more than welcome to continue reading, but it’s good to know what you’re reading before you read it.

I’m working on a little project that I created for myself in an effort to develop my ability to write more persuasively and with stronger emotion and better arguments. For this project, I watch and analyze TED Talks and focus on trying to answer one main question: What makes some speeches and/or speakers more powerful, effective, and inspiring than others?

This is one of my favorite TED Talks. I love the message. I also respect the way in which she delivers and presents herself and her speech. I find it interesting to watch speakers when their TED Talk is complete and the audience is clapping. She stands confidently and receives the applause. I think that reflects how she feels about herself and her message.

Thesis. Opening sentence holds the main subject of her speech:

Some days, it feels like the only thing we can agree on is that we can’t agree on anything.


We go online to find community and connection, and we end up leaving feeling angry and alienated.

Pathos. This perhaps could be an example of appealing to the audience’s emotion by using a story from her childhood that makes her words and experience more relate-able.

So, when I was 10 years old, I loved arguing. This, like, tantalizing possibility that you could convince someone of your point of view, just with the power of your words. And perhaps unsurprisingly, my parents and teachers loved this somewhat less.

She also makes this message one that others can take home and use:

…talking to your cousin about politics at your next family dinner; reorganizing the way in which your team debates new proposals…

Ethos. This creates credibility with the audience.

“It wasn’t until I started coaching debaters..”

Parallelism – To stop, to start

To stop talking and to start listening. To stop dismissing and to start persuading. To stop shutting down and to start opening our minds.

Okay, so this is an interesting exercise. For class we just finished analyzing Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have A Dream” speech, which is beautiful and inspiring and “text book” perfect. We focused on finding all the different literary tools that he used in his speech. So I thought I’d do the same thing with this TED Talk. But it’s different. She’s chatting with the audience, and that makes it effective and powerful for what’s this is.

So there’s a different style that needs to be considered for the situation. When King stood before the masses in D.C, that was not a time for a casual conversation. That was the time for powerful oratory. For Julia Dhar, standing before a TED Talk audience, she needs to connect with these people who probably never heard of her before, and then convince them that she has an important message that should be considered.

The casualness, but not laziness, of her speaking allows the listener to open up and listen to her and consider what she’s saying.

Sentences/Phrases that I was drawn to:

  1. It felt easier to attack the person making the argument rather than the substance of the ideas themselves.
  2. The way that you reach people is by finding common ground. It’s by separating ideas from identity and being genuinely open to persuasion.
  3. Debate is a way to organize conversation.
  4. Debate requires that we engage with the conflicting idea, directly, respectfully, face to face.
  5. People who disagree the most productively start by finding common ground.
  6. Debate requires that we separate ideas from the identity of the person discussing them.
  7. In formal debate, nothing is a topic unless it’s controversial.
  8. Our public conversations, even our private disagreements, can be transformed by debating ideas, rather than discussing identity.
  9. Debate allows us to…open ourselves up to the possibility that we might be wrong.
  10. One of the reasons it is so hard to disagree productively is because we become attached to our ideas.
  11. And it’s that exact humility that makes us better decision-makers (embracing the humility of uncertainty, the possibility of being wrong).
  12. We need many more people with the technical skills of debate and persuasion. (And we need people who have intellectual humility, the ability to open themselves up to the possibility that they might be wrong)

April 8, 2020

Time writing/watching: 2 hours

Total time writing on this blog: 204 hours and 30 minutes