Difficult conversations, complex thinking and constructive conversations

Peter T. Coleman, Ljubica Chatman, Columbia University

Difficult Conversations Lab studies address the issue of intractable conflicts between people and aim to find ways for people to find common ground. Through facilitating conversations between people with polar opposite attitudes on broad moral issues, like abortion, we study the conditions and ways of thought that lead to constructive outcomes and convergence between discussants. In the first two studies we established that when people think about issues in complex and nuanced ways, this leads to more constructive and satisfying conversations, reducing the tension introduced by disagreement. In future work we will discover what happens when only one discussant thinks in nuanced ways. Will this be enough to untangle the destructive patterns of simplistic and one-sided thought that characterize intractable conflict?

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