Have a Productive Discussion With Someone You Disagree With

September 20, 2021

Franki Kung

The past couple of years have been filled with increased polarization on a range of discourses.  

For topics like politics, social justice, and COVID-19, everyone seems to have a strong opinion favoring one side while ridiculing the other. And from what we see on the news and media, conflict and deterioration in relations between contending groups are not uncommon.

You are not alone if you feel that this is challenging or impossible. Fortunately, psychology research has identified some mental tools that can help improve the quality of discussions and relationships between those in conflict.

Samantha Lapka

A series of studies  have identified thinking strategies that counteract the negativity bias people commonly feel towards those with an opposing viewpoint in social conflicts, otherwise known as the outgroup. These five strategies, or HOPES, are in line with classic philosophies of wisdom (e.g., Aristotle, Solomon): 

1. Humility - recognizing the limits of one’s knowledge

2. Observer’s viewpoint -  looking at the bigger picture

3. Perspective taking - trying to understand situations from multiple angles

4. Evolving situations - accommodating for fluctuation or change in situations

5. Search for compromise - integrating different interests in the resolution

Across different social conflicts involving varied controversial issues, the studies showed that using the above reasoning strategies helped people disagree without hate – maintaining positivity toward an outgroup and showing less favoritism across conflict lines. In other words, by actively expanding our perspectives on a topic and admitting that we don’t know absolutely everything, we learn from others who hold a different viewpoint and find more balanced attitudes and responses towards the conflict and members of the related outgroup.

By minimizing our polarization and bias, we create space for a more reasonable and productive conversation to take place, making the discussion worthwhile to all involved.  

So the next time you find yourself in disagreement with someone, we encourage you to try adopting these strategies and have a more productive discussion – you may be surprised by what you can learn from the other person.

Key Reference

Brienza, J. P., Kung, Y. H. F., & Chao, M. M. (2021). Wise reasoning, intergroup positivity, and attitude polarization across contexts.  Nature Communications, 1–11.  https://doi.org/10.1038/s41467-021-23432-1  

Samantha Lapka (B.A.) and Franki Kung (Ph.D)

Sami Lapka serves as the lab manager for the Conflict and Mindset Lab at Purdue University. She graduated from the University of Missouri in 2020 with a BA in Psychology and minor in Business, and has since been conducting research related to mindset and perception. Some of her current research involves how essentialist mindsets relate to support for diversity policies, the relationship between fixed mindset, political orientation, and beliefs about climate change, and how perceptions of high self-control can lead to dehumanization. In the future, Sami plans to pursue graduate school in Social or Industrial-Organizational Psychology. She is interested in continuing her research on perceptions and mindset in the domains of self-regulation, motivation, well-being, and interpersonal relationships.

Dr. Franki Kung is an Assistant Professor of Industrial-Organizational Psychology and directs the  Purdue's Conflict and Mindset Collaboratory at Purdue University. His interdisciplinary research generates knowledge to improve conflict management of individuals and organizations.

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