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Moving from Disagreement to Dialogue

As COVID-19 increasingly adds stress to our lives, it could either spur greater polarization in our society or become the stimulus for bringing us together. Our ability to come out of this crisis with minimal damage will depend in large part on learning how to better engage each other in a constructive, problem-solving dialogue. The best way to avoid conflict is to show more empathy, be a good listener, and strive to understand what motivates others.

Disagreements generally arise from one of three root causes.

  • Having different facts or perceptions
  • Conflicting interpretation of those facts
  • Dissimilar goals or objectives for the desired outcome

If we can learn to first ask ourselves what is causing us to disagree, our conversations will be more productive.

Different and Missing Facts. Having different information about a topic is the most obvious cause of disagreements. Most people start with the assumption that others around them are working with the same information but this often is not the case. A good way to avoid this to apply the ABCs of sharing information: First Ask the other person for their data. Find out if you are getting your data from different sources. Second, Brief the other person on your facts. Provide as much context as you can. Third, Continue cooperative communication which is always needed to maintain trust.

Conflicting Interpretations. You and your colleagues may interpret information differently because you: 1) hold different assumptions about the facts, 2) value the same data differently, 3) have different experiences working with similar facts or situations, or 4) bring varying skills to processing and interpreting the information. Resolving differences depends on identifying why you view or value information differently. Structured Analytic Techniques can be used to identify which data are driving the analytic conclusion or what assumptions are being made about the data or lack of data. The objective is to focus on the key differences, how they can best be resolved, and what strategies would be most effective in bringing the issue to closure.

Dissimilar Goals or Objectives. The most difficult situation occurs when parties have the same facts and evaluate them the same way, but each party wants a different outcome because of personal values or beliefs or personal defensiveness. Uncovering those psychological differences is hard and, even when they can be identified, the parties may not be able to overcome or circumvent them. This is often the norm with political discourse when the goals are conflicting, which partly explains the growing politicization of our society. Some conflicts of interest are real, and resolution can only come through negotiations.


If some friends tell you COVID-19 is no worse that the flu and you believe otherwise, you should ask them:

  • Where did they get their information? How informed are their sources?
  • What was the logic behind that conclusion?
  • Have they seen the World Health Organization report that says COVID-19 is more contagious, more lethal, has no current vaccine or cure, and will spread exponentially?
  • How would you relate these facts to your facts?
  • Do they believe a cure will soon be found mitigating the danger?
  • Do you see this as a problem affecting cities but not rural areas?
  • Do you think reducing the number of deaths should be the prime task?

Learn more about how to reduce conflict and promote collaboration, order a copy of the just published 3rd edition of Structured Analytic Techniques for Intelligence Analysis.

Structured Analytic Techniques for Intelligence Analysis, 3rd ed.

To explore how structured techniques can be used in a much different way, check out How to Get the Right Diagnosis: 16 Tips for Navigating the Medical System

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Please note Globalytica is a separate entity from Pherson.