Manage disagreements to make a positive difference

The SMU BSI conference shares approaches to disagreements that will prevent negativity, foster positivity, and co-create solutions.

“We will all be better off if we get the right psychology of disagreement and debate, and not just the politics of it,” Professor David Chan said at the SMU Behavioral Sciences Initiative conference on “Managing disagreements ”on December 1, 2021. Addressing participants from academia and the public, private and human sectors, he noted that different stakeholders such as government, academics, journalists and civil society advocates have all an important role in society and must therefore develop mutual respect and trust. Anyone can better deal with disagreement if they learn to focus on the three principles of “truth, tact and deal”.

Whoever we are and whatever our opinions, there will be situations where we will need to make critical comments or respond to such comments. Such episodes of disagreement or debate tend to evoke strong emotions and intense experiences that affect the way we think, feel and act. It is important to learn to approach differences in a civil and healthy way and to move forward with cohesion, even if disagreements persist, said Prof Chan. He added that this is essential not only for the parties under discussion, but also for many others who observe and draw conclusions.

The science and art of disagreement

Professor Chan was translating the science of disagreement into practice for political and public discourse and action in his opening address, following the opening address by Singapore’s Goodwill Ambassador Professor Tommy Koh, who shared his approach to dealing with disagreements.

Noting that Singapore can do better to deal with disagreements, Professor Koh in his speech called on policymakers and the public to remember five points when dealing with disagreements. They recognize that disagreements are natural and part of life, be humble and listen carefully to your opponents because you can learn something from them, win the argument and not lose a friend, not demonize your opponent and don’t take the disagreement personally.

Expanding on Professor Koh’s five points, Professor Chan said it would be very unfortunate if differences, debates and disagreements produced only negative points and not positive points. “The worst thing that can happen is if we allow ourselves to be carried away by cynicism, conspiratorial beliefs, confirmatory biases and counterproductive behavior. Then a negative spiral of self-defeating attitudes and actions will be reflected in our society, ”he added.

Applying scientific research and his work in areas such as healthy skepticism, taking perspective and taking comments seriously, Professor Chan urged participants to engage in debate and provide comments. criticism in an effective manner that will allow everyone to be received and heard. He explained how it is possible to effectively manage disagreements to prevent negativity, generate positivity, and co-create solutions. In developing his “Five C’s” framework, Prof Chan said it was very important to develop a supportive socio-political climate to deal with disagreements so that people have the skills to deal with differences and debates, let people of good character speak up and do it. both courageously and constructively.

The video recording of the main session, which includes keynote addresses by Professor Koh and Professor Chan, followed by a panel discussion moderated by Mr. Han Fook Kwang, is available here.

Specific questions on how to deal constructively with disagreements were also discussed during the conference closing roundtable moderated by Professor Chan, involving panelists Yale-NUS President, Professor Tan Tai Yong, editor of the Straits Times Political & Singapore, Mr. Zakir Hussain, surgeon in private practice Dr. Kanwaljit Soin, and SUSS Associate Professor Walter Theseira. Professor Tan spoke about the importance of developing critical thinking and a culture of open and respectful discussion in the educational context. Mr. Zakir Hussain spoke about the judgments that media editors and journalists must make when dealing with differing views on complex, uncertain and sensitive issues. Dr Soin shared his experiences with various approaches to disagreements between government and civil society advocates in Singapore. Assoc Prof Theseira has discussed issues of fact, rationality and persuasion in public policy debates and policymaking.

In his closing remarks to the conference, Professor Chan shared a practical approach to dealing with agreements amid challenges, which is to hold back, reflect and resolve. He noted that embracing these three Rs could bring efficiency, optimism, hope and resilience, and help us make a positive difference for ourselves, others, and our society.

The video recording of the closing roundtable is available here.

You can also read more about the BSI conference at Lianhe Zaobao.

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