A Guide to Dialectical Thinking

The reason most of us feel stressed in life is because of the way we think. Our thoughts have everything to do with how we feel each day. For example, if you think negative thoughts, you will feel negative. If you think positive thoughts, you will feel positive.

What if it was possible to use a philosophical method to transform negativity and to start thinking in a more balanced way? What if it was possible to step back as an observer and take a non-judgmental stance toward your circumstances so that you could get unstuck from negativism, pessimism, worry or disappointment?

During my postdoctoral fellowship, I came across a type of therapy that had it origins in the socratic method and was based on the philosophical principles of Georg Hegel, a German philosopher born in 1770. As a student of English literature and philosophy in undergraduate, I was familiar with his work but stunned by how beautifully Hegel’s philosophy was integrated into a therapeutic technique called Dialectical Behavior Therapy. I was equally stunned by how this therapy significantly reduced symptoms of severally mentally ill clients by transforming how they viewed themselves and their circumstances.

I realized that anyone could apply the principles of Hegel’s dialectical thinking to their daily life so I set out to experiment on myself. I found it to be extremely effective in transforming ordinary negativity or disappointment. It seemed to help me step back to observe my circumstances before making judgements and become more effective in my communication while simultaneously leading to more peace and calm in my daily life.

Dialectical thinking is the notion that two opposing ideas can be true at the same time. We move from “either-or” thinking such as our circumstances are either good or bad to “both-and” thinking that life has good and bad parts. The move to “both-and” thinking creates more balanced thinking because it reduces judgement and extremism.  

Most people reading this article have balanced thinking under normal circumstances. However, anyone can become imbalanced, when they feel stressed, get triggered or experience a strong emotional response. Our mind can be dominated by “all or nothing” thinking, or “either-or” thinking for some period of time until we come to our senses. Having a plan to manage those moments of imbalance can be highly effective and help us decrease the length of time we remain unreasonable. 

Below you will find an excellent guide to dialectical thinking. I recommend reviewing these tips every day and practicing them when you perceive the slightest amount of negativity within yourself.

A Guide to Dialectical Thinking

What is Dialectical Thinking?

  • Dialectical means that two ideas can both be true at the same time.
  • There is always more than one TRUE way to see a situation and more than one TRUE opinion, idea, thought or dream.
  • Two things that seem alike (or are) opposites can both be true.
  • All points of view have both TRUE and FALSE within them.
  • All people have something unique, different, and worthy to teach us.
  • A life has both comfortable and uncomfortable aspects: (happiness AND sadness; anger AND peace; hope AND discouragement; fear AND ease; etc).


  1. You are right AND the other person is right.
  2. You are doing the best that you can AND you need to try harder, do better, and be more motivated.
  3. You can help yourself AND you need help from others.

 How to Be Dialectical?    

  • Let go of “black and white”, “all or nothing” ways of seeing a situation.
  • Look for what is “left out” of your understanding of a situation. Find a way to validate the other person’s point of view. Expand your way of seeing things.
  • Get “unstuck” from standoffs and conflicts.
  • Be more flexible and open-minded.
  • Avoid assumptions and blaming.
  • Let go of self-righteousness.

How to Think Dialectically?

  • Move away from “either-or” thinking to “BOTH-AND” thinking.
  • Avoid extreme words: Always, Never, You Make Me
    • Example: Instead of saying: “My boss never communicates in an effective way,” say “Sometimes she communicates well AND other times she does not.
  • Practice looking at ALL sides of a situation/points of view.
  • Find the “kernel of truth” in every side.
  • Remember: NO ONE owns the truth. Be open and willing.
  • If you feel indignant or outraged, you are NOT being dialectical.
  • Use “I feel…” statements, instead of “You are…” statements.
  • Accept that different opinions can be legitimate, even if you do not agree with them. 
    • Example: “I can see your point of view even though I do not agree with it.
  • DON’T assume that you know what others are thinking, check it out.
    • ExampleWhat did you mean when you said…?

Contact me. If you would like to schedule an appointment for coaching or counseling on how to think more dialectically, please email me through my website.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s