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On Constructive Disagreement
October 28, 2020+Team HxA
+Constructive Disagreement

Resource Guide: Constructive Disagreement

This resource list contains HxA tools, blog posts, and podcast episodes on the topic of constructive disagreement. In addition, we are also sharing a curated TED talk playlist that you may find helpful. We encourage you to share these materials with friends and family and use them in your classes and on your campuses to generate thoughtful, nuanced, constructive conversation.

Constructive disagreement is a core part of Heterodox Academy's mission. It occurs when people who don’t see eye-to-eye are committed to exploring an issue together, acknowledging their own fallibility and the limits of their knowledge — and open to learning something from others who see things differently than they do. Learning from our differences, and modeling how to engage despite them is the foundation of healthy academic practice, and indeed of democratic society itself.

Colleges and universities face a number of challenges in fostering constructive disagreement:

  • Many students, faculty, and staff lack sufficient training in how to constructively engage across differences — especially as it relates to fundamental ideological commitments.
  • Constructive disagreement is a skill that must be refined through real-world engagement, but due to the aforementioned deficits within institutions today, many students lack opportunities to meaningfully and charitably engage with underrepresented perspectives.
  • Many professors who are concerned about this problem don’t know where or how to begin introducing missing perspectives, as they often do not have a solid foundation in them either.
  • Many academic contexts, from class discussions to academic research, incentivize competition in a way that can be counterproductive to learning and growth. It often seems easier to build a reputation by attacking others than by seeking opportunities for mutual growth and collaborative discovery among people who seem to be on opposing sides of an issue.
  • The political culture in the United States is highly polarized and increasingly toxic. In such an environment, differences of opinions are often attributed to moral or intellectual defects, with people easily branded as sellouts or traitors for engaging across the aisle.

Tools and Resources

  • The HxA Way – A statement of norms and values that facilitate constructive disagreement.
  • Creating Connection to Generate Deep Discussion – An activity you can do with others before having a difficult conversation.
  • Have Students Interview Someone They Disagree With – An activity for students that promotes viewpoint diversity, encourages students to engage across lines of difference to understand new perspectives, and improves active listening skills.
  • Living Room Conversations -  A conversational model developed by dialogue experts in order to facilitate connection between people despite their differences, and even identify areas of common ground and shared understanding. HxA produced a conversation guide in collaboration with Living Room Conversations on encountering controversial ideas in higher education
  • OpenMind – A free, psychology-based educational platform designed to depolarize communities and foster mutual understanding across differences.
  • Bridging Differences Playbook – Bridging differences can feel daunting and it's not often clear where to start. This playbook uses research to highlight the key skills and strategies for overcoming divides.

Blog Posts

Podcast Episodes

  • Jill DeTemple - A Structure for Different Classroom Dialogue. Jill DeTemple is an associate professor of religious studies at Southern Methodist University. She talks about a technique called reflective structured dialogue to enable students to express their perspectives on contentious moral and religious issues.
  • Sheila Heen - Difficult Conversations for Students and Faculty. This is a two part conversation with Sheila Heen, coauthor of "Difficult Conversations: How to Discuss What Matters Most" (1999), a New York Times Business Bestseller that has continuously been in print. Heen is a lecturer at Harvard Law School and a founder of Triad Consulting Group. She discusses difficult conversations between faculty and students and how to facilitate them effectively. Click here for Part 1 and Part 2.
  • Arthur Brooks - Loving One's Enemy. Arthur Brooks, president of the American Enterprise Institute, discusses his recent book, "Love Your Enemies: How Decent People Can Save America From the Culture of Contempt" and shares how to overcome political differences.
  • Cristine Legare - Teaching Techniques to Promote Viewpoint Diversity. Cristine Legare, an associate professor of psychology at the University of Texas-Austin, talks about two teaching issues: how to teach a politically and religiously diverse student body, and how to approach controversial issues.
We're always trying to share more relevant materials. If you have suggestions for materials on the topic of constructive disagreement that would be a good fit for this list, please emails us at

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