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Desert Highway
Thoughtful writing authored and shared by members of of the Thinking Collaborative community to support others on the journey.

Sustaining the Journey

Using Positive Presuppositions to Invite Thinking

Authored By:

Thinking Collaborative


October 26, 2015

Almost all of us have had a time in a conversation when we experienced a strong reaction to something that was said that made us feel diminished or uncomfortable. Sometimes the source is subtle because it comes from a negative presupposition that is covertly embedded in the statement or question. Consider the following:

Even our ESL students can do that.

Do you have any ideas about how to address this issue?

In the first statement, there is an implication, though not explicitly stated that carries a belief that ESL students are less capable. It is a negative presupposition that makes a dangerous generalization. If unexamined, it becomes subtly institutionalized in a culture that devalues a category of students.

In the second statement, there is a presupposition that the person may not have ideas and that there answer would be, “no, ” and possibly “yes.” The receiver feels the questioner wonders about his or her capacity to think and generate ideas. Over time, the person will internalize the message and question his/her own capacity, possibly leading to a fixed mindset.

By using positive presuppositions, we build growth mindsets and avoid subtle yet powerful assumptions that are discriminatory and destructive.

Consider how you might rewrite the statement and question above to send a more productive message. As you navigate conversations this week, plan for positive presuppositions and monitor the effects.

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