Constructive Controversy In A Nutshell

Constructive controversy is a theory arguing that controversial discussions create a good starting point for understanding complex problems. A constructive controversy discussion is performed by following six steps: organize information and derive conclusions; presenting and advocating decisions; being challenged by opposing views; conceptual conflict and uncertainty; epistemic curiosity and perspective-taking; and reconceptualization, synthesis, and integration.

Understanding constructive controversy

Decision making is an inherently controversial practice because disagreement and conflict are inevitable. Controversy arises because people make decisions based on perspectives, experiences, and rationale that are unique to them.

Constructive controversy is a deliberative discussion method. It endeavors to solve problems through the identification and resolution of constructive conflicts among team members. Constructive controversy differs from debating, which is a competitive process where one opinion wins at the expense of all others.

Instead of suppressing a difference of opinion or alternative solutions, the model encourages individuals to consider the rationale behind opposing views. Each group member is encouraged to validate their reasoning while seeking to accommodate the reasoning of others. 

Ultimately, this approach results in creative solutions and high group morale. Individuals also develop higher self-esteem because of an ability to successfully navigate conflict.

Implementing a constructive controversy discussion

A constructive controversy discussion is performed by following six steps:

Step 1 – Organise information and derive conclusions.

During this initial phase, everyone formulates a conclusion based on their current (but usually limited) perspective. While each person has confidence in their unique perspective, high-quality decision-making results when alternatives are properly evaluated.

Step 2 – Presenting and advocating decisions

When an individual presents the rationale behind their conclusion, they engage in high-level reasoning strategies. This deepens their understanding of the problem or decision. It also helps the individual defend their position against the position of someone else. 

The continual and somewhat cyclical process of advocating and defending a position reinforces high-level reasoning. Over time, greater amounts of information are fed into the decision making process.

Step 3 – Being challenged by opposing views

In a constructive controversy, group members critically analyze one another’s positions to discern strengths and weaknesses.

Opposing positions encourage individuals to research information not currently known to them. This helps them appreciate opposing positions which may indeed be advocated after further research.

Step 4 – Conceptual conflict and uncertainty

When an individual has their position criticized or challenged by information that is incompatible with their views, uncertainty develops.

Step 5 – Epistemic curiosity and perspective-taking

Uncertainty can be unpleasant, but it stimulates epistemic curiosity – or the desire to obtain new knowledge to stimulate intellectual interest.

In turn, this strengthens the reasoning process and makes individual positions more robust. At this stage, there may still be disagreement within the group and any opposition should be dealt with intellectually and cooperatively. 

Each individual must have a desire to look at an issue from multiple perspectives and consider facts in different ways.

Step 6 – Reconceptualization, synthesis, and integration

Each member of the group has now presented their best case solution. However, teams following the constructive controversy process should avoid simply choosing one solution from the list

Instead, the goal is to synthesize (integrate) different ideas and facts into a single, unifying solution. Synthesis means viewing the issue from a variety of perspectives and generating several means of applying the evidence in practice. 

This requires probabilistic thinking, which favors high-level reasoning under some degree of uncertainty. This is in stark contrast to dualistic thinking, which advocates notions of right and wrong and authority that should not be challenged 

Key takeaways:

  • Constructive controversy argues that constructive differences of opinion provide a solid foundation for tackling complex problems.
  • Constructive controversy encourages individuals to consider and validate the rationale behind opposing views. Group morale then increases as each individual develops creative thinking and conflict management skills.
  • Constructive controversy is described in six steps. Each helps the individual progress from blind confidence in their ideas to a collaborative, high-level form of reasoning and better decision making.

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Published by

Gennaro Cuofano

Gennaro is the creator of FourWeekMBA which reached over a million business students, executives, and aspiring entrepreneurs in 2020 alone | He is also Head of Business Development for a high-tech startup, which he helped grow at double-digit rate | Gennaro earned an International MBA with emphasis on Corporate Finance and Business Strategy | Visit The FourWeekMBA BizSchool | Or Get The FourWeekMBA Flagship Book "100+ Business Models"