Dialectical thinking (also known as both/and thinking) helps you look at a situation from various perspectives so you can get closer to the truth, no matter how messy or complicated that truth might be!
It can be all too easy to see people, things, or situations in absolute terms. We might call some things ‘bad’ and others ‘good,’ or see some people as ‘right,’ and others as ‘wrong.’ We might feel like we have to choose between ‘this way’ or ‘that way.’
The truth is, life is so much more nuanced than that. And that’s where dialectical thinking comes in.
What is Dialectical Thinking?
Dialectical thinking allows you to hold two seemingly opposite ideas as part of the same truth.
This way you can stay open-minded and curious because you don’t force yourself to ignore conflicting feelings or ideas. Here are 7 key pointers along with examples to help you understand how dialectic thinking works.
1. Thinking Neutrally
Dialectic thinking is about walking the middle path. It’s not about positive thinking, instead it’s about looking at a situation from a neutral perspective or from the perspective of an detached observer rather than someone who is attached to one point of view or another.
Hence this helps broaden your conscious mind, become more self aware and make better decisions.
A pessimist would say that the glass is half empty. An optimist would say that the glass is half full. But a dialectic thinker would say that the glass is half empty and half full.
This does not mean that you can never take a stance. You can take a stance on a particular subject and still be open to understanding the other person’s point of view.
2. Using ‘And’ Versus ‘But’
An essential part of dialectical thinking is choosing to use the word ‘and’ instead of the word ‘but.’
‘I am angry with my sister, and I accept her as she is.’ would be a dialectical approach because I am acknowledging my two seemingly conflicting feelings as part of the same truth.
‘I am angry with my sister, but I accept her as she is.’ isn’t quite the same.
The word ‘and’ is subtly but powerfully different from ‘but’ because it emphasizes that two conflicting ideas can take up the same space without competition.
You don’t have to choose which feeling wins because both are equally valid.
3. Having a Balanced Perspective
Thinking dialectically is about finding a more balanced perspective.
Instead of getting trapped in a ‘black or white’ way of thinking, you can make it easier for yourself to see things through a more realistic lens.
For example, someone might vote for a particular political party.
Having expressed their support for this political party, they might find it very difficult to agree with anything that another party stands for, because it feels like they are betraying their convictions.
But when you think dialectically, you don’t pigeonhole yourself into a specific view.
‘I voted Democrat, and I also think the Republicans have a lot to offer.’, would be a dialectical way of thinking.
In other words, you are forcing yourself to think from the other person’s point of view.
4. Accepting Opposites
Without even realizing it, we are conditioned to think in opposites.
In our movies, we have ‘villians’ and ‘heroes.’ In the newspapers, we see ‘the terrorists’ and ‘the good guys.’
But dialectical thinking accepts that two opposites can be true at the same time.
For example, a person can be both violent and compassionate. And you can feel both hurt by someone and understand where they are coming from.
Instead of thinking in ‘all’ or ‘nothing’, we can learn to interpret things in a more balanced and realistic way.
5. Letting go of ‘Either-Or’ Thinking
‘Either-Or’ Thinking sounds like this:
“Are you going to do this or that?”
“People are either this way or that way.”
“If I don’t do this, I’ll have to do that.”
But Dialectical thinking challenges extreme thought processes like ‘Either-Or’, Me-Versus-You, or ‘All-Or-Nothing’ type thinking. It helps you to see how you can do both this and that. (Or find another solution that you might not have even considered.)
6. Keeping it Fluid
Dialectic thinking is all about being fluid rather than rigid in our thinking patterns, so we are open to learning new ways to see things.
“If she doesn’t come to my wedding, she doesn’t respect me.” would be a more concrete example of Either-Or thinking.
A Dialectical thinker would say: “If she doesn’t come to my wedding, I will be disappointed. She can disappoint me and respect me at the same time.”
7. Refocusing your energy on the right things
Dialectic thinking is about accepting a situation for what it is and looking for ways to learn from it and make progress.
When you resist a situation, your energy is focused on the negatives and things that you cannot control. Whereas, when you accept a situation, you can refocus your energy on building the new instead of fighting the old.
15 Examples of Dialectical Thinking
The following are 15 more examples to help you understand dialectical thinking.
- I’m mad at my ex-boyfriend, and I still care about him.
- I accept that I’m feeling depressed, and I will reach out for professional help.
- I am so happy to be moving to the city, and I don’t want to leave the countryside.
- I disagree with the war, and I support the soldiers fighting in it.
- I enjoy my job, and I am finding my workload overwhelming.
- People are fundamentally good, and they are capable of terrible things.
- I appreciate my sister-in-law’s good qualities, and I want to limit how much time I spend with her because I don’t enjoy her company.
- I am angry at how the government handled this, and I empathize that the job must be impossible.
- I love my girlfriend, and I don’t want to continue the relationship.
- I feel betrayed by your behavior, and I can see why you did this.
- I am disappointed by the situation, and I accept it how it is.
- I don’t feel comfortable around this group, and I know they are good people.
- I want to be a mother, and I don’t want to have children.
- There is a great deal of suffering in the world, and there is so much beauty.
- Women and men have equal rights, and sexism is a real problem.
Benefits of Dialectic Thinking
When you begin to think dialectically, you begin to act dialectically too and this can be a real game changer. The following are just some of the benefits of dialectic thinking.
- You begin to see the bigger picture which helps you plan things and make informed decisions.
- You become more adaptable and resilient.
- You become more emphatic toward others and yourself.
- It will be easier for you to practice non-violent communication and become a better listening which will further improve your relationships.
- You become more responsive rather than reactive.
- You develop better control over your thoughts and emotions. This helps you develop your emotional intelligence.
- Your conscious mind improves and so will your cognitive abilities. You will also become more self aware.
- You begin to think out of box as you realize there is more than one way to solve a problem. This also helps boost your creativity.
- You start focusing on the solutions rather than the problem.
- You become open to learning and growing instead of holding on to rigid beliefs and ideas.
- You start talking responsibility for your life instead of playing the blame game. This is the basis of self growth.
- You bring in more balance and wisdom into your life as you are not thinking or acting in extremes.
How to develop dialectical thinking in your daily life?
One of the easiest ways to develop dialectic thinking is by beginning to observe your thoughts. In other words, start to look at your thoughts, beliefs, assumptions, ideas and perceptions from the perspective of a third person. When you do this, you are basically beginning to engage your conscious mind to question your unconscious thoughts and beliefs.
Observing your thoughts this way will be a little difficult in the beginning. So the best way is to start slow. Begin by analyzing one rigid belief that you hold in your mind and try to look at it from a different perspective. The more you do this the easier it will be for you to turn dialectic thinking into an automatic habit.
Dialectical thinking might not seem to make a lot of sense at first.
How can someone both want to be a mother and not want to have children?!
Well, it’s normal to have conflicting feelings about a situation. And with dialectical thinking, you don’t have to choose one of those thoughts and ignore the others. You can hold them both at the same time.
This can help us be more open-minded because we don’t feel the need to defend our opinions so aggressively. Instead, we listen curiously to other people’s ideas and see if it helps us develop our own perspective.
If we stop trying to ‘be right’ or ‘win’ and start welcoming new perspectives into our life, we will broaden our minds and get closer to the truth. (If one truth even exists!)
I hope you found this article helpful, and I wish you all the best on your self-development journey!