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The Value and Skill of Creating Doubt, Leading to Creative Problem Solving

Doubt is not a fearful thing, but a thing of great value.

- Renowned Physicist Richard Feynman.

Doubt is a lubricant when we need to see the world anew…Constructive doubt is above all defined by its capacity to reframe problems.


Doubt. If one looks at the quotes on “doubt,” 90% is negative. These quotes speak of doubt arising out of fear and leading to despair and failure.

I want to reframe this issue of doubt into a positive approach; an approach where doubt creates the opening to creativity and problem solving + critical thinking.

Beginning a class or training with doubt. Recently, I have begun my classes with what I call “a playful quick quiz.” Based on my experiences, I know that the participants will not do well with the quiz. They will be surprised and begin to question their skills in the subject matter of training, whether it be leadership, persuasion, or negotiation. This surprise creates doubt. This feeling of doubt then opens the door to learning.

Without this “doubt” introduction, many participants would merely methodically do the training or the teaching, thinking that there is not much more to learn.

The training research demonstrates that most trainees believe that they approach the training with an openness for new information, but that is a misconception.

-Confirmation Bias: If the trainees or students hear something in class from the facilitator that agrees with their pre-existing beliefs, they believe the facilitator is very wise and experienced.

- Resistance to new beliefs: If the trainee or students hear information or a perspective that contradicts their pre-existing beliefs, often they will reject such, believing that the presenter is not that experienced or knowledgeable in their specific area.

The introduction playful quiz creates doubts and, subsequently, openness to learning.

Quoting Bertrand Russell: "The fundamental cause of the trouble is that in the modern world the stupid are cocksure while the intelligent are full of doubt."

NOTE: Many of the introductory quizzes that I give are from author Kurt Mortensen’s book: Persuasion IQ. He and his group have done much research on persuasion and the results surprise many. Examples:

1. People who are are better at persuading

- Educated

- Competitive

- Analytical

- Extroverted

- Introverted.

2. Which one is the main reason people do things they don’t want to do?

- Fear

- Greed

- Dissonance

- Love

- Pride

3. What is the first color to register in the human brain?

- Red

- Orange

- Yellow

- White

- Gold

*Answers below

Teaching Modules on Listening

I often use a playful quiz to open the teaching module on listening. Out of the blue, I read a relevant story about mediation and problem solving. The students usually are nodding their heads believing that this story makes common sense. Suddenly, I distribute a ten question quiz on what I have just read.

I remind them that I am their professor and they are hanging on my every word which could be a gem of learning.

Of course, even in this setting, most students score about 25%. Initially they are shocked, since they had believed that they are effective listeners. In this shock, they may initially counter by saying,

- You read too fast.

- You gave us no warning about the quiz.

- I was listening to the overall theme, not the details.

One time, I had a retired judge in my class who made this assertion:

"Professor Ray, you seem to be a very organized person and yet you have posted tattered poster sheets. I was diverted by this incongruence while you were reading the story."

At the end of the class, she admitted that she had simply not been listening.

The 25% score was of no surprise since communication experts estimate that most Americans listen at a 25% effectiveness rate.

So, the class is in doubt in regards to their listening skills and become more open to the learnings of the listening teaching module.

Teaching Modules on Persuasion

For the teaching module on persuasion, I often begin with using 10 questions for the above mentioned Kurt Mortensen’s Persuasion IQ book. Again, the students are surprised by their low scores since most law students believe they are effective persuaders. This doubt then compels students to listen and learn more intensely then they would have.

Teaching Modules on Word Precision, Facts and Facts v. Perspectives.

Words Module: In this arena there are three key numbers to remember: more than a million total words, about 170,000 words in current use, and 20,000-30,000 words used by each individual person and 47,000 that are obsolete. Each word or term used can have 10-25 different meanings, a number which increases when tone of voice is considered.

So a playful quiz on word definition is used and the students begin to wonder or doubt their knowledge of words.

Sometimes that doubt comes from common terms such as “part-time job,” “cooking,” or “small business.”

Sometimes the doubt comes from words that are rarely used.

Bildungsroman, marcescence, stammtisch, canted, logorrhea, quotidian, leitmotif.

Thus, when words are used, people need to be exact, questioning the definition especially of key terms to avoid future misunderstandings.

Negotiator’s and Mediator’s Skill in Creating Doubts

Most negotiation and mediation parties arrive at the session with firm beliefs in their positions. They may be even firmer in their positions than in the beginning. Often parties will consult with people who agree with them. Often the more people think about a position, the more they persuade themselves that they are right.

Positions are statements of what you will or will not do:

- I will never pay more than $9,000 for a car.

- I want to buy this car for $9,000.

- I cannot move to Columbus.

- I will be moving to Columbus.

To move to problem-solving, one must be persuaded to move from positions to interests.

Interests underlie the positions:

- I cannot move to Columbus because all of my family is here and depend on me.

- I will be moving to Columbus because I need a fresh start.

So, once one gets to know the parties’ interest, creative options can be brought forth.

Sowing doubts is one way to move parties from positions to interests. The Sowing Doubts process might involve a lot of questions: What about….What if….

- Doubt leads to uncertainty and confusion

- Doubt can be our ally and give you an edge.

- Create doubt in positions. Can this really be achieved?

- Then produce a pix as to how to make progress

- Creating doubts motivates other negotiators mentally.

- Create doubts by:

  • Asking questions

  • Using logic or talking to their heads

  • Using emotions or talking to their heart

  • Grabbing their attention

How to Use Doubt to Win Negotiations by Greg Williams, the Master Negotiator

Doubt creates uncertainty and is a tactical tool. Doubt can lead to indecision. To create doubt, one can appeal to emotions; speak to the heart. One can raise doubts by asking questions like assumptive questions which create a sense of awareness that may differ from reality.

“To use doubt effectively in your negotiations, you must pay attention to details. Because at times, they’ll be small nuances that require you to shift your focus to a more beneficial aspect about what doubt has raised. That little shift in detail can become the multiplying enhancer that improves your negotiations substantially. And everything will be right with the world.”


“I keep going because I doubt myself. It drives me to be better. I’ve learned that the mastery of self-doubt is the key to success.” – Will Smith

“I’m not a perfectionist by a long shot, but self-doubt is a large part of my creative process.” – Keith Fullerton Whitman

“There lives more faith in honest doubt, believe me, than in half the creeds.”

– Alfred Lord Tennyson

“My job as a mediator is to sow doubt with both parties.

– AAA Thomas Colosi, DC

Most people are cognizant that they do not know everything. To create doubt, one needs to find areas in which the other parties are less sure or lack complete conviction on certain facts. Possibly, one can involve others with other opinions.

Certainly in the legal field, “reasonable doubt” is a legal term. Often, the judge must educate jurors on “reasonable doubt." It is a legal standard in considering all direct and circumstantial evidence. Are there any unanswered questions or issues? This is a systematic link to evidence with legal principles.

There are a variety of techniques to create doubt:

- Compare one’s views to others.

- Point out the fear of making a mistake if a certain path is following without further examination.

- Persuade them to spend time with others who think differently.

- Maybe have them seek professional help such as from accountants or experts.

- Help them to be skeptical.

- Identify core values that may be contradicted if a certain path is pursued.

- Maybe, if appropriate, refer to past experiences.

*Introverts, Dissonance, Yellow


See Recommended Books under “Blogs” drop down menu.

Roy J. Lewicki is the author of 'Essentials of Negotiation', published 2015 under ISBN 9780077862466 and ISBN 0077862465. Publisher: McGraw Hill Higher Education

The Conflict Resolution Training Program, Leader’s Manual, ISBN: 0-7879-6077-2. Prudence Bowman Kestner and Larry Ray

5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace.

Getting Your Way Every Day.


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