Dialectical Thinking

What is Dialectical Thinking? (With Examples!)

Published On: March 29, 2024

Put simply, dialectical thinking is when we consider alternative perspectives or points of view on a particular topic and make room for all points without trying to discredit another. It involves balancing two truths, even when they may be opposite from one another. As humans, we tend to think in very black-or-white, or all-or-nothing terms. For many people, it is really hard to sit with the unknown or be in a gray area. Practicing dialectical thinking is particularly useful for people who tend to think in extremes or fall into the all-or-nothing mental space.

There are loads of benefits to dialectical thinking, including increased open mindedness, more effective problem-solving, and creativity. I find that when people successfully integrate dialectical thinking into their lives, they feel less shame about their emotions or thoughts. They allow themselves to accept their emotions and experiences fully without pushing “bad” parts away, because they recognize they can be or feel more than one thing at a time. 

Examples of Dialectical Thinking

A few examples of dialectical thinking include the following:

  • “I love you and I’m upset with you.”
  • “I understand why you did that and it hurt my feelings.”
  • “I feel guilty for making this decision and I know it is the right one.”
  • “I feel nervous and I’m choosing to do it anyway.”
  • “I’m really angry and I’m trying to cool down.”
  • “Today was really hard and I’m hopeful for tomorrow.”
  • “I’m feeling both exhausted and satisfied.”

After reading these examples, you may recognize the power of making space for mixed emotions and experiences. I’ve included a few tips below to help you begin to implement dialectical thinking into your daily life.

5 Tips to Dialectical Thinking

1. Use “And” in Place of “But”

Whenever we choose to say “and” rather than “but”, we give two statements equal value. Rather than dismissing your first thought with “but”, make room for your second thought with “and.” This way you will feel you can balance both feelings even when they feel differently. 

2. Validate Emotions and Encourage Anyway

I often reinforce  the importance of making decisions based on our values rather than our emotions or feelings. Emotions come and go whereas values stay consistent, and making choices based on our values helps us to live more fulfilling lives. This is tough whenever we are feeling unmotivated, discouraged, or sad. We can make room for our emotions and redirect our energy at the same time. This may sound like, “I’m feeling really discouraged, and I am going to keep trying anyway.” Parents may also use this approach with their children by saying, “I understand you’re frustrated, and it is time to leave.”

3. Let Opposing Sides Exist

Learning to sit in the gray area or the unknown feels intimidating to most people. When we allow ourselves to consider opposing sides, we’re more creative, flexible, and empathetic. This helps us to prevent rigidness or reaching incorrect conclusions. We may practice this by curiously listening to others’ perspectives, considering alternative ways of approaching challenges, and understanding that there is more than one way to get something accomplished. 

4. Refrain From Extremes (“Always” or “Never”)

It is helpful to resist saying “always” or “never.” I find this to be useful because these extremes tend to box us into certain beliefs or emotions. Extremes also bring up feelings of defensiveness with others, and we are able to communicate much more effectively if we avoid this language.

5. Notice You Are Using Dialectical Thinking or Rigid Thinking

Creating awareness is often the first step in creating change. By simply noticing your immediate thought processes, you create space for change. I encourage people to gently notice their thinking pattern, and reframe it if needed. This will become more natural over time, and you’ll be thinking more flexibly. 

Final Thoughts

Dialectical thinking allows us to break away from extremes and make room for opposing sides. Integrating dialectical thinking into your life helps you to make peace with the unknown and feel comfortable when things are unclear or when you have mixed emotions. Those who are able to implement dialectical thinking are more creative, less rigid, and more accepting of themselves and others. With practice, this thinking pattern becomes natural and you will begin to feel the positive effects.