Yes, dialectic is not a word we commonly use. It comes from ancient Greece and was made popular by Plato and Socrates. Basically, a dialectic is a dialogue between two different points of view. It differs from a debate, where there is a ‘right or wrong’. A dialectical approach holds both points of view at the same time, evaluating both sides and coming to an understanding that is somewhere in the middle or a ‘shade of grey’.
Dialectical thinking was introduced in psychotherapy by Marsha Linehan, Ph.D, who developed Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT). Similar to Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT), it works to change dysfunctional thinking and behavior. DBT, however, emphasizes the dialectic of change AND acceptance. I think of the serenity prayer “grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” DBT is all about finding the wisdom part – some kind of balance, which isn’t necessarily right smack in the middle. It’s like learning to ride a bike..you lean right and left (very slightly) until you manage to find yourself not falling over. Driving a car, you notice that the steering wheel usually moves slightly back and forth to stay in the middle of the lane. Often it’s necessary to go from one side to the other to determine your center – like a pendulum.
You can practice dialectical thinking by being an ‘observer’, watching like a fly on the wall. From this angle, you’re better able to ‘see’ the different parts of a situation and have a more balanced perspective than if you’re in the middle of things. Taking a ‘step back’ can help you find balance.