Black and White Thinking

‘Black and white thinking’ is used in the Human Givens approach as an way to refer to the psychological term ‘cognitive distortions’. Black and white thinking means that we are no longer able to see the subtle shades of grey between the extremes. It becomes a case of “I am right and you are wrong.” This makes us unable to see the truth – that most situations are rarely all good or all bad. The result is that disagreement leads to unhealthy argument and unwanted conflict. We might go as far as to say that reacting emotionally often makes us think stupidly, because we are not using the parts of the mind that are designed to help us navigate tricky social situations.

Congitive Distortations


Blaming is something most of us learned in early life often linked with being punished if something was found to be your fault. It can become a learned behaviour that to succeed you need to be able to pin the blame on someone else. That way you avoid being punished. This ingrained behaviour can be perpetuated through our lives. How many times have you heard ‘Who is to blame?’

In a situation where we are looking to restore relations reverting to blaming behaviour is unhelpful and often destructive. A useful way to handle blaming is rather than thinking of who is to blame, is to explore [[helpful_approaches:contribution|contributions to the problem]], accepting that everyone involved may have contributed in some way.


Judging is a natural thing for us. At an unconscious level we make quick judgements, part of our survival instincts, that help keep us safe. For example, when driving you may have experienced the situation where you find yourself braking or swerving to avoid danger, and realise that you have reacted before you were even consciously aware of the danger.

In our everyday lives, we are constantly making conscious judgements, I like that, I don’t like that, I agree with you, I don’t agree with you, we should be doing this or that. We do this because we don’t have the time to consider all aspects that affect a situation, we need to make a decision. Being able to make judgements based on our experience is often what contributes to our success in life. It might get us promotion at work, as we are seen as being able to make correct judgements.

In a situation that involves conflict, this natural instinct is unhelpful. Making judgements sends the message that my [[difficulties:needing_to_be_right|judgement is right]] and your’s is wrong. In real life things are rarely black and white, but shades of grey. In restorative dialogue, we need to suspend our judgements, something that is easier said than done, and instead explore the shades of grey, [[helpful_approaches:listening_to_understand|listening to understand]] and consider the [[helpful_approaches:respecting_other_viewpoints|various viewpoints]] of those involved.

Needing to be right

Needing and wanting to be right puts a strain on a conversation. If I am right, then it must mean that you are wrong, and visa versa. We learn in school, and even earlier, that we benefit by being right and are often tested on things where there is a right and wrong answer. Later we learn that in many situations there are multiple options and some lead to better outcomes than others. In our everyday and working lives we tend to do better if we can choose the better or right way forward.

Choosing the right path links to our needs and identity. We have a need to be considered competent by ourselves and others. Success in our working lives often depend on us, and others, having this positive view of us. No wonder we are naturally keen to project an image of being right.

And when we believe we are right, we readily argue our point of view which releases dopamine into our bloodstream making us feel good, but blinding us to our impact on others.