Steelmanning is a term that was invented as the opposite of strawmanning, which is a logical fallacy that involves misrepresenting an opponent’s argument in order to make it easier to attack or refute. Strawmanning involves setting up a “straw man” or a weak and easily defensible version of an opponent’s argument, and then attacking or refuting this straw man rather than the actual argument being made.
Steelmanning, on the other hand, involves presenting an opponent’s argument in the strongest and most accurate possible way, even if this means acknowledging points that may be difficult to refute. The goal of steelmanning is to engage with an opponent’s argument in a fair and respectful manner, rather than misrepresenting or distorting it in order to make it easier to attack.
The term “steelmanning” was coined by the philosopher Eli Dourado as a way of promoting more constructive and respectful dialogue in online discussions. By encouraging people to engage with opposing viewpoints in a more charitable and fair-minded way, Dourado hoped to promote more productive and meaningful discussions.
Negotiations: A professional might use the concept of steelmanning to approach negotiations in a more constructive and fair-minded way. By presenting the opposing party’s arguments in the strongest and most accurate possible way, the professional may be able to find common ground and reach a mutually beneficial agreement.
Presentations: A professional might use the concept of steelmanning to prepare for presentations or other public speaking opportunities. By presenting the opposing side’s arguments in the strongest possible way, the professional can anticipate and address potential objections or counterarguments more effectively.
Decision-making: A professional might use the concept of steelmanning to make more informed and balanced decisions. By considering multiple viewpoints and presenting them in the strongest possible way, the professional can make more informed and well-rounded decisions.
Team discussions: A professional might use the concept of steelmanning to facilitate more productive and respectful discussions within a team. By encouraging team members to present opposing viewpoints in the strongest possible way, the professional can help to create a more constructive and respectful team culture.
- The Scout Mindset: Why Some People See Things Clearly and Others Don’t by Julia Galef
- “How to Disagree” by Paul Graham