Working with opposing positions? How to keep it productive using brain research

Debating opposing positions is not just for professionals anymore. In fact political debates have become regular household events as of recent. In fact you may have even seen tips over the holidays for talking to relatives over the dinner table. As a society, we’re in need of a way to communicate our opposing ideas with one another without hitting a wall – both figuratively and literally.

Lauren Migliore, author at Brain World Magazine, provides a solution to this issue that uses an instinctive, automatic human function to bring people together – our emotions.

Let me backup a moment and explain why this is so difficult to do in the first place. Migliore writes that the mind is not easily swayed, due to our historic need to remember and base quick judgments off of experiences. In other words, we are hard-wired as humans to pre-judge situations for survival. Further, only in the past few decades have we gained access to the current extent of information that is out there about the world.  Our brains have simply not evolved as quickly as the extent of information sources has, leaving us to pick and choose our sources for information. And unfortunately our tendency to consume information that confirms our current beliefs (i.e. confirmation bias) strengthens not only our resistance to change, but our likelihood of becoming defensive when challenged.

This, Migliore explains, is the power influence can have on the brain. This explains why conspiracy theories such as the flat earth theory gain 200 followers per year. No matter how much scientific evidence is documented and shared, as long as strong beliefs coupled with selective information are what are populating a person’s mind, facts can fall flat, Migliore mentioned with pun intended. This facts can fall flat theory was tested with participants in a study about politically charged issues, and Yale professor and researcher Dan Kahan found that individuals, when presented with a topic that elicits strong polarized opinions, were less able to provide objective, quantitative analyses.

So what was Migliore’s solution to our opposing positions at the dinner table issue? What can we do about our stubborn sets of beliefs and expectations? We can tap into the useful pieces of this emotional connection phenomenon and find shared emotions, shared motivations as the author calls it. If you saw the movie Crash, you may remember the scene toward the end where the police officer is saving the woman he once sexually assaulted from a burning car. She is terrified to be touched by him, but he is the only police officer who is there and able to save her. Spoiler alert – he ends up talking her into letting him save her, and the intense shared experience teaches him to empathize with her fear. He could see how afraid she was of him, even as he stood there as her only option for survival. It’s a heart wrenching scene, but you can see the intense impact of their shared motivation.

The moral of the story here is: connect with people via emotions, not via logic. One way to connect with people’s emotions is to tell stories. We are also wired as humans to listen to and learn from stories of the human experience (Drew Turney, also author for Brain World Magazine). You only have to consider the tales told in caves by campfires and the time and money spent on television, movies, and novels to realize the human obsession with stories.


What motivations do you share with those who oppose your personal opinions?

How can you be the person who gets the conversation going in a respectful, yet still compelling way?

What emotion can you communicate through a story to help your cause?

Generation Attitude Adjustment

When you feel frustrated with a person of a different generation, try to balance out the negative thoughts with positive ones. Researchers William Strauss and Neil Howe describe generations as part of a repeating cycle of “people moving through time” (1991, p. 23); and the “lesson of the cycle is that each generational type specializes in its own unique brand of positive and negative endowments” (1991, p. 39).

Common Complaints (Cons):               Pros

Millennials are always on their phones > They’re good with tech and multitasking

                                                                    > They’re creative/innovative.

Boomers are behind with tech and        > They’re experienced and have a different set of skills.

don’t want to learn new skills                > They’re good with face-to-face communication.


Discrimination and any other form of workplace mistreatment based on age crosses a legal boundary.

Could your attitude toward people of a different generation cause you to cross a legal boundary?


Challenge: Consider how a generationally diverse work environment can benefit your productivity? (diverse communication styles and skills, perspectives, experiences, etc).