Constructive disagreement

Developing constructive confrontational skills and emotional intelligence

Stephen Walshe argues that engaging young people in philosophical enquiry creates an environment conducive to building constructive confrontational skills and emotional intelligence.

Depersonalising disagreement

One of the best ways to develop constructive confrontational skills is to provide young people with opportunities to engage in constructive argumentation. Doing this helps children become used to having people disagree with their points of view. Moreover, depersonalizing the argument by focusing on the issue rather than the person, creates an environment for rational discourse and reasonable dialogue to be the focus of the argument, as opposed to a provocation for confrontation.

Depersonalizing the argument, to focus on rational discourse, helps children to suspend judgement and develop the ability to not only build a better understanding of their own views, but also understand that other people have different perspectives, which in turn assists in the development of emotional intelligence.

Starting with the Early Years

In order to develop these skills, we need to begin with young children, starting before they get set in their ways and rigid in their thinking. We cannot expect this to happen at home nor can we leave this to chance. Yes, this will involve controversy but with patience and the right environment controversy can be channeled into meaningful discussion while at the same time developing constructive confrontational skills in young children. Initially children will need to develop the confidence to express their own thinking, as opposed to group or teacher pleasing thinking, while at the same time learning how to provide reasons for their thinking. We need to help students of all ages to develop the emotional intelligence not only to think independently, but also to express this thinking.

Community of Enquiry

Once children feel safe expressing their own thinking and giving reasons for why they think the way they think, we have a fertile environment for divergent thinking.  The Community of Enquiry (C of E), creates the environment where disagreement and different ways of thinking can be explored in a safe, responsible manner. In the beginning, there will be problems as students will have to become accustomed to having their thinking challenged. Overcoming this requires patience and sensitivity on the part of the facilitator. The facilitator will have to help students become accustomed to suspending judgement. In order to do this, the facilitator must also learn to suspend judgement in order to model this for students.

We need to help young students understand that:

“When I am contradicted it arouses my attention not my wrath. I move towards the man who contradicts me: he is instructing me. The cause of truth ought to be common to us both.” (Michel De Montaigne 1533-1592)

Education for Life

Part of what education means is not just preparing children for the future but helping them to deal with the here and now. My good friend and mentor, Nick Chandley, from DialogueWorks in the UK, brought this to my attention when he said that schools that only prepare students for the future are failing students. Students live their lives in the here and now. Therefore, schools need to create opportunities for students of all ages to engage in meaningful discussion based on topics or questions they need to talk about now.

If, along with preparing students for the future, we can begin to engage students in topics and issues that are meaningful to them in the here and now, we have a better chance of accessing their true thinking to deal with real issues. The issues that children are faced with now, need addressing now. These issues are just as, or arguably, more important than issues they will face in the future. Because if they don’t learn how to address real issues in the here and now, how can we expect them to be prepared to address issues they will face in the future.

Therefore, I would argue that if schools want to prepare students for the future, the opportunity to do so lies in the present. Creating space to do this in schools is preparation for life.

Helping young people talk about their problems

We keep hearing about the mental problems young people of all ages are facing today. I think we can all agree that learning to talk about problems with others helps in some way to alleviate problems. People of all ages can feel isolated with their problems, and this can lead to depression.

Creating a weekly slot in school schedules where young people are encouraged to develop constructive confrontational skills while at the same time developing the emotional intelligence not only to express their own thinking, but also suspend judgment while listening to others, may help raise and address issues of importance to them, reduce the isolation they feel, help them better understand not only how they feel, but also how others feel about similar problems. In helping them address the ‘here and now; we are also preparing them for the future.


Stephen Walshe

Stephen is Co-Principal at the Fortune Kindergarten in Shanghai and Co-Direcotor of P4C China. He is an accredited Advanced P4C and Thinking Moves trainer.  Philosophy for Children, Communities and Colleges, (P4C) and the Community of Enquiry, provide both the pedagogy and the structure to develop ‘Constructive Confrontation’.  For more information on P4C and the Community of Enquiry please visit

P4C China at:

DialogueWorks at:


Feature Image: by Виктория Бородинова from Pixabay

Support Images: by vsbonvenuto from Pixabay  & p4c session with students from Wuxi United International School, Shanghai, China


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