To Disrupt Your Prejudice, Have a Conversation

image credit: daulphino

We have them every day, probably without ever thinking much of them.

At work, at home, at school, with our families and friends, and maybe even with strangers on the commute.

It’s usually just a brief exchange of information, each side spouting what they want the other to hear. But if the information gets a little more personal, it takes on a whole new attitude.

Stubborn Perspectives and The Backfire Effect

I recently heard a fascinating story on one of my favorite podcasts, This American Life. [If you don’t listen to it already: what are you waiting for? It’s some of the finest, most entertaining storytelling around. Basically all of iTunes agrees.]

In an episode entitled, “The Incredible Rarity Of Changing Your Mind,” host Ira Glass unpacks a story they call, “Do Ask, Do Tell.” Political canvassers discovered that going door to door to talk to voters about specific issues had the potential to bring up what’s called The Backfire Effect: when confronted with evidence counteracting what we believe, we often ignore the evidence and dig deeper into our previously held beliefs.

Confrontation often breeds stubbornness and even less willingness to change beliefs. Not surprisingly, the confrontations about political positions got canvassers nowhere.

Ira Glass:
The problem with that, they found, is that it kept the conversation at this very rational, reasonable, intellectual level.

Steve Deline:
And that’s not where people make their decisions about issues like this. People make their decisions about how they’re going to vote on this at a gut level. And at a visceral level. And at an emotional level.

Yet when canvassers went door to door to simply ask questions and listen to voters and why they held certain beliefs about specific issues, something amazing happened: the visceral, emotional sides emerged. People were given freedom to express themselves with less judgment and more honesty.

They had a conversation.

Voters were less staunchly devoted to their political leanings when they could look someone in the eyes, share questions, answers, and parts of their story. They could get past the disagreements they held for the sake of seeing from each other’s perspective.

The Radical Implications of Honest Listening

Something dangerous happens when you stop forcing your ideals upon people and instead invite them to share a story or a reason for the way they are.

Humble honesty transforms confrontation into a conversation. (tweet that)

Confrontation keeps it intellectual, distant, and protected from the opposite side of the argument. A conversation forces you to see the complex truth about a stranger—and maybe even yourself.

Perhaps we’d all do well to have a few more conversations.


Who is one person with whom you can have a conversation this week to hear a different perspective than you normally hear?


Learn more about the book I’m writing, which explores finding meaning in the stories of our lives and connecting with other people. Subscribe to updates here.

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