Learning how to better understand the viewpoints of others is a valuable skill for people of all ages.  This can be applied when you’re considering the opinions of classmates, an author of a book, a lecturer, or even among your friends.

The important key is to not be too quick to judge rashly. You’ll want to put yourself in their shoes and consider the context in which the conflicting opinion came to be.

Authors John Mauk, Jayme Stayer, and Karen Mauk, in their book Think About It, 1st Edition, suggest that to do this for a reading, students should identify the context, the reasoning, the writer/speaker, and the audience.

Context

  • Why is this topic or particular argument important? How do you know?
  • What is the tension?
  • How does this writer or speaker claim to resolve or address the issue more comprehensively or accurately than others?

Reasoning

  • Identify the topic, main claim, and supporting reasons.
  • Take some aspect of the argument (either a major claim or some supporting reason) and show its relationship to some other part of the argument.
  • Identify the boundaries of the argument—what it seeks to do, what it doesn’t.

Writer/Speaker

  • Who is writing? How does the writer construct his or her authority to argue on this topic?
  • Is the persona serious, formal, comedic, or something in between? How does the persona influence or shape the message? How is the persona crafted or chosen to fit an audience’s expectations or needs?

Audience

  • Who is being targeted? What are their expectations and assumptions?
  • How does the publication figure in? What does it tell you about the audience?
  • Is the audience hostile or friendly? Already knowledgeable about the issue or in need of being taught? Does the volatility of the topic require treading lightly around the audience’s attitudes? Or can the writer go forward and not worry about offending readers or encountering resistance? (107-108)

These questions are great when reviewing a text for class, but can also be used in a variety of situations. If you’re having trouble relating to a certain argument or stance, run through these questions and see if they help you to understand what brought this person to their particular viewpoint.

It’s not necessary to agree, of course, but understanding and respecting the opinion will make it much easier to continue working with or reading this person.

Reference: Mauk, John; Jayme Stayer; Karen Mauk. 2014. Think About It, 1st Edition. Boston: Wadsworth, Cengage Learning.

Have you experienced conflicts or confusion that this checklist might have helped prevent? Share your thoughts below.