The Certainty Fortress: How To Dialogue With The Aggressive Right

As I’ve been in discussion with people who disagree with me, I’ve been looking for ways to deal with these conversations.

They often do not go well, especially if the person is ideologically to the right. A combination of cocksure attitude and combative stance, with lack of genuine interest in listening to another view, can make these attempts at conversation turn negative quickly.

I’ve realized we need some good conversation “markers” and “exit ramps” so that we can protect the relationship and still assert a different viewpoint.

I don’t see it that way, but I’m curious to find out more about why you see it the way you do.

This is one way to interrupt the argumentative pattern. Curiosity is gentler, and changes the dynamic from a contest to a more appreciative inquiry.

It is not always necessary to say “I don’t see it that way.” But sometimes we need to do that in order to arrest the aggressive talk. Saying “I don’t see it that way” is less inflammatory than “you’re wrong” and it provides a way to remind the other person that there is another view they haven’t accounted for.

Following up with a curious question, and then another, and another, is a way again to stop the flow of aggressive talk and require the other person to reflect.

Can you tell me what you mean by ______________?

This is another way to stop a running flow of Fox News talking points. Pick a word or phrase and ask them to unpack it. This accomplishes two things: 1) It forces them away from pre-packaged doctrinal views they’ve picked up from media, and 2) It establishes a human bond by opening space for them to talk about their own experience.

I feel like we are talking about two different things.

A good middle-conversation marker, if there is repeated lack of listening and lack of attention being paid to opposing views. Often I have to insert this statement multiple times before the other person realizes they aren’t getting anywhere.

Let’s stay in dialogue.

It’s OK to say you need to stop. (With a really aggressive person, say “I’m going to stop you there” while holding up your palm to them. This is remarkably effective.) We need to have an exit ramp from the conversation, especially if it is during the holiday and we have precious little time with family and don’t want to spend the whole time arguing about politics or other controversial subjects.

Emphasizing the desire to stay in dialogue leaves the door open. It says you care about what they have to say. It says you value the relationship above the ideas being discussed.

Remember, It’s A Process

We need to have these dialogues in order to be heard, and to help move our family, friends and country forward toward more open-minded views. But we can only plant seeds.

Know that by the very process of asking curious questions, being gently assertive, and having an exit strategy, we open cracks in the hard certainty of the other viewpoint. We can always follow up with a good factual article or reference by email, but the important thing is not to get caught up in the heat of the moment, and attempt to “win” at an argument.

Let’s pledge to find ways to sneak inside the “certainty fortress” of right-leaning family and friends this holiday and beyond.


One thought on “The Certainty Fortress: How To Dialogue With The Aggressive Right

  1. To say I am sick of now don’t be negative”, is more than an understatement, it means to me total submission, in what I see as a very violent time and place. I will say that all that came from Trump’s own mouth and his own action and was diluted, and accepted and even submitted too. Granted most disenfranchised did not even vote, plus the third party card, plus the fact of the diabolical Electoral College idiocy ever since Gore that played into all of it too . However, let us not forget the unparalleled happening that is well deserved of a reference to misogyny, racism, homophobia, xenophobia , and plain bigotry etc. I am not going to be positive and I will not use kid gloves when handling a dangerous animal.


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