How to talk to people who won't listen to data, facts, or basic common-sense.

Updated: Aug 29, 2020

written by Eric Prince (with lots of help from Emily Tokarowski)

Introduction

We’ve all been there. You’re chatting with a friend, family member, coworker, or acquaintance, and the conversation starts to get political. You soon realize the other person doesn’t share your views. In fact, their views are SO outrageous that you don’t even know where to begin to correct them. The other person has ignored all data, all facts, and all common-sense. It’s mind-blowing, really.

But you continue the discussion anyways, because their views are so wrong that you just feel the need to correct them.

The conversation might go a little like this:

So, you push back a little more. But then you get this in response:

And now you’re just dumbfounded. So, you try another tactic.

And that’s where you lose them. You’ve come to a crossroads. There seems to be no way that you can convince them of an alternative viewpoint. The other person writes you off as a sheep who follows any advice given by an authority in power. And you write the other person off as a nincompoop and an ignoramus.

Conversations like these seem to be a lost cause these days. How do you converse with people who won’t listen to data, facts, or even basic common-sense? How do you convince someone of an alternative viewpoint? How do you expose someone to new information?

The answer isn’t easy. But before we start to answer these questions, first we have to understand just who these data-ignoring, fact-shirking, and common-sense-avoiding people are.

WHO ARE YOU PEOPLE!?

So, who are these people who refuse to listen to data, facts, and basic common sense? Well, I call these people anti-reasoners. Let's talk about these anti-reasoners for a moment.


This is the anti-reasoner:


The anti-reasoners are everywhere.



And they could look like anyone.



The anti-reasoners aren’t easy to talk to. In fact, a lot of them are misinformed, misled, and extremely ignorant. They watch the most extreme news networks (check out OAN if you want to be terrified), some of them believe in conspiracy theories, and they don’t trust anything created by the establishment (which is almost everything).

Ironically, they also seem to put all of their trust (or mistrust) into certain people or political parties (even if they’re part of the establishment), and they ignore data and facts because the data and facts don't align with their political identity.

They also seem to value completely different things than you or I might value, and their values don’t make a whole lot of sense when you actually break them down either. Sometimes the anti-reasoner seems brainwashed by the media and other times they seem to be at war with the media.

And it isn’t just a specific topic they feel this way about. The topics can cover ANYTHING, especially in this current age of extreme polarization.


Some examples of these topics might include: vaccinations, police brutality, race relations, global warming, gender equality, immigration, Donald Trump, coronavirus, healthcare, Congress, science, impeachment, education, evolution. The list goes on and on.



But here’s the thing, these people are not a monolithic group. It’s not like you can spot them from afar and say, “Oh, that’s one of those people".

No. The anti-reasoner can be liberal, conservative, Black, White, Christian, Muslim, rich, poor, happy, sad, old, young, you name it.

But they all have two things in common, which is why I’ve written this piece today.

First, they all shut down when an argument occurs and refuse to accept alternative views.

They’ll talk over you. They’ll ignore what you have to say. They scoff at you. And they think YOU'RE the idiot.

The second thing most anti-reasoners have in common is that they all tend to gather on the extremes of the political spectrum, which makes real, constructive conversation with them that much more difficult.

So, is real, constructive conversation with an anti-reasoner pointless?

No! There IS a way to get through to the anti-reasoner. But I must warn you, the answer isn’t easy. It’s going to take A LOT of patience and a lot of empathy.

Thankfully, I’ve taken the time to break the answer down into five steps. So, without further ado, let's find out how to talk to those people who just won’t listen to data, facts, and basic

common-sense.

1. Put aside your pride and remain respectful.

Step 1 requires the most personal restraint because we humans are naturally prideful. And we sometimes allow our pride to get in the way of respect. And in this age of endless polarization, conversations can quickly devolve into shouting matches.

But it’s IMPORTANT that you do not let it get to this point.

Because once you do, the conversation with the anti-reasoner is over. If you had ANY chance of convincing them of your side of the argument…well, let’s just say you don't have that chance anymore.

So, here’s what you: put aside your pride and remain respectful.

Let’s break this advice down into its two components: pride and respect.

Pride. Look, I know these people irritate you. How do I know? Because the very same people also irritate me! I just want to grab them by their shoulders and yell in their face, “YOU’RE WRONG YOU DOPE!”

Unfortunately, this IS NOT a constructive way to go about things. It’s NOT helpful to the discussion. And you’re ONLY going to push the anti-reasoner away.

Here’s what I try to keep in mind: if I’m SO sure that I’m correct, I should be confident enough to keep my cool and talk to the other person like they’re, well…a person! Otherwise, I’m just as close-minded as the anti-reasoner.

Which brings us to respect. You have to respect the other person. Or you have to at least PRETEND like you do. You might really dislike certain political figures (Trump), but calling one of his supporters an “idiot” isn’t going to change their mind (or vote). And treating their ideas or arguments as stupid isn’t going to do much for you either. And yes, their ideas might ACTUALLY be stupid, but what’s the point of vocalizing it?

First, there’s a reason for the way they think and who they support. And no matter how misguided or dumb these reasons are, the other person believes them. It’s part of their identity. And if you call their ideas dumb, you’re essentially calling them dumb. Plus, they probably think YOUR ideas are dumb too. They might even think YOU’RE the anti-reasoner.

In order to show respect to an anti-reasoner, you have to practice some empathy. Place yourself in their shoes. Ask yourself some questions:

What led the anti-reasoner to this moment in their lives? Why might they feel this way? What kind of views and people are they surrounded by on a day-to-day basis?

The anti-reasoner isn’t a bad person (for the most part). They’re not trying to be malicious (for the most part). Keep this in mind.

2. Adjust your argument to their beliefs.

Once you start to empathize with the anti-reasoner, you might start to make a strange realization: the two of you aren’t even talking about the same things.