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Communicating A Willingness To Learn Improves Conflictual Conversations

Individuals in conflict consistently under-estimate disagreeing others’ intentions to learn, thus undermining conflict outcomes (Collins et al., 2022). So, how can conflict counterparts express a willingness to learn? Study 1 (pre-registered) found that individuals in conflict were unable to effectively convey a willingness to learn about opposing views when explicitly asked to do so. Participants (“Writers”; N = 197) were randomly assigned to write a message about their views (control) or to do so while conveying a willingness to learn (treatment). Treatment messages were longer, expressed more emotion, used more hedges, and asked more yes/no questions. But did these messages convey a willingness to learn about opposing views? Disagreeing counterparts (“Raters”; N = 984) evaluated treatment messages no differently in terms of their willingness to learn (or any other measures) than the control messages. However, when we appended two short sentences to control messages that directly stated an interest in learning, raters evaluated message authors as significantly higher in their intent to learn. In Study 2 (N = 700) we found that a lack of ability (more than a lack of motivation) led Writers to be ineffective at conveying a willingness to learn. However, when we provided examples of direct statements that convey an interest in learning, Writers were able to effectively convince conflict counterparts and improve conflict outcomes.

Hanne Collins
Harvard Business School, Harvard University
United States


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