Differentiation and Integration in your Deliberations

Differentiation (analysis) and integration (synthesis) are the two main thinking modes we use in all situations where deliberation is involved. Non-profit leaders who wish to improve their deliberative processes may benefit from reflection on how effectively they are using both modes.

Whether we are differentiating facts from fiction, signal from noise, salient from irrelevant, logical from illogical, or ethical from unethical, we will usually find it helpful to first consider all of the parts or elements of a problem or situation. This is sometimes described as divergent thinking, where we use tools like brainstorming and root cause analysis to identify all possible ideas that might apply to a problem or situation.

Identifying and differentiating between arguments for and against a proposal also qualify as part of this divergent thinking process.

Having completed this analysis, convergent thinking is then used to integrate the various perspectives and elements into a shared or agreed definition of the problem or issue requiring a response.

Contest of Ideas

That problem definition then offers a focus for a new round of differentiation as solution or response options are explored. This stage too can involve opposing views about the likely effectiveness and impact of the measures proposed. Such ‘tension’ can be helpful in testing the relative merits and practicability of the options under consideration. Hopefully, participants in the decision-making process remain focused on their shared responsibility to address the issue or problem, and are not distracted by emotive comments or personal ‘attacks’. Tight chairing can and should prevent such distractions.

Respectful disagreement was acknowledged as a constructive force in my earlier post on decision-making dialogue and consensus building. Conversely, acrimonious and disrespectful disagreement would signal a toxic culture. Great care is therefore required to moderate systems, processes, and behaviours to avoid such a negative outcome.

Working towards an agreed decision on the solution or response, integration (synthesis) is again required. The consensus or majority view regarding the most suitable solution or response is adopted as a resolution, and this becomes the ‘direction’ to be used by those assigned responsibilities for the execution or implementation of the decision.

Boardroom Dialectic

Those who are familiar with the concept of dialectic may well be familiar with models attributed to Hegel and Kant (while some will reference Marx of course). Etymonline advises that while the term was originally synonymous with logic, in modern philosophy it was refined by Kant (“the theory of false argumentation leading to contradictions and fallacies), and then by Hegel, who made it mean “process of resolving or merging contradictions in character to attain higher truths.”

Heinrich Moritz Chalybäus described this as “comprising three dialectical stages of development: a thesis, giving rise to its reaction; an antithesis, which contradicts or negates the thesis; and the tension between the two being resolved by means of a synthesis.” Hegel suggested that this was Kant’s preferred model, and that he used a similar three-valued logical model in which the most usual terms were: Abstract-Negative-Concrete.

The chart below takes the starting points offered by Hegel and Kant, and suggests that while conflicts can be resolved via dialogue and consensus, they can potentially escalate (degenerate) so that acrimony and abuse are fomented. Good governance requires that the latter be avoided in all circumstances.

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