Over the last few weeks, I’ve seen countless people on social media talk about the fights that have erupted over topics like Race, Police Brutality, etc. I know how difficult it feels to keep your Anger in check when talking to someone acting racist. So, in this episode, we’re going to talk about how to talk to a racist in a way that will actually leave an impact on them, instead of high emotion screaming match that doesn’t help anyone.
I recommend that you listen to the previous episode where I walk you through how to deal with your own emotions about race, privilege (especially if you’re white), and what type of mindset you need to be in so you can have an impactful conversation instead of an argument.
So, let’s begin.
Listen to the Podcast here.
Do your thought work and center yourself first.
It is too easy to get lost in emotions and thoughts when it comes to talking to a racist (or anyone for that matter with a different opinion than you). It’s crucial that you do all the necessary thought work that YOU need to do so that you can lead a productive conversation.
It’s also important to recognize the types of thoughts that you’re having BEFORE you go into talk like this. For example, can you see how “They’ll never change their mind” isn’t a thought that will help you talk to a racist?
If you’re stuck in trying to work through your thoughts, then I’ll suggest that you stop here and listen to the episode on Racism Thought Work, then come back here.
1)Set your intention for the talk.
I am a big believer in setting intentions because how we make decisions about our lives and how we act is how we live our lives. Did you know that you get to decide how a conversation goes, no matter what the other person says or does?
You get to decide how you will act, what you’ll say, and when you end the conversation. You can set the tone for how talking to a racist will go, which we’ll talk about later on in the episode.
For now, ask yourself if being “right” is more important, or getting someone to ask themselves, “Is it possible I’ve been wrong about this?“.
Are you willing to give up the need to be on the moral high ground to guide this person to see another point of view? This question is vital because the most useful way to talk to a racist is to get them to question their beliefs and their actions. But you can’t do that if you’re focused on just being right or making the conversations be about YOU and how you know better.
I know it’s hard not to in conversations like this. And if you’re anti-racist and believe that Black Lives Matter, then you are right. But as we’ll talk about later, people build strong beliefs when they’re young, even if they’re not right. And people have found “evidence” for why they’re right their entire life.
So, it’s important to remember the main point of the conversation is to help them take it upon themselves to look for evidence of how Black Lives Matter and why they should be Anti-Racist. But they won’t get there if they feel like they have to defend their beliefs and prove that they’re not wrong.
So, set a goal or an intention for your talk. Are you going to focus on being right? Or helping them see how they miiiiiight be wrong in their opinion?
2)Prepare yourself for what they might say
Remember, anything they say, either about you or the world, doesn’t mean you have to AGREE or CONDONE. This thought will help stop you from feeling the urge to cut them off when they explain why they believe that they do. We’ll talk about creating the space for them to open up soon, but just because you’re allowing them to talk about themselves, does NOT mean you agree or condone.
Also remember that even if they say anything about you, it doesn’t have to MEAN anything about you unless you let it. Remember when we talked about setting an intention for this conversation? Maybe a good intention would be, “I’m not going to make anything this person says MEAN anything about me.”
Create the space they need so they can be open to your side.
1) You have to let them get their side out without wanting to argue during it.
This is going to be near impossible if you’re emotional. When you’re emotions are high, intelligence is low. Think about it like this. Have you ever gotten so angry that you’ve gotten flustered, forgot your words, and don’t know what to say?
When we’re high in emotions — that doesn’t feel good — we’ll do just about anything to make that feeling go away. For example, make someone feel dumb for being wrong. Or start to raise your voice to let some of your Anger out. But, I think you know as well as I do, that nothing good comes from this. We’ll talk about how to defuse high emotions and high tempers later.
2) The person you’re talking to needs to know that you won’t make them regret opening up to you.
Let’s face it; no one wants to look dumb and get it thrown back in their face.
They need to know that changing their opinion doesn’t make them LESS of a person. It makes them better. Again, this DOES NOT mean that they get a pass for being racist, refusing to do Anti-Racist work, or saying offensive things. However, if your goal is to get them to start questioning their beliefs, they need to feel safe to do so.
If you’re not in a place mentally yet to do so, then I suggest you go back and do some thought work. Because your thoughts eventually lead to your actions. Your actions will bring the intentions you set earlier to life.
Understand Why they believe what they do.
1) Get past all the “fact spouting.“
Usually, people form beliefs when they’re young, and frequently, it doesn’t MATTER what the facts are. We unconsciously AND consciously look for evidence to back up our beliefs. So you better believe they’ll come at you with “facts” to back up their opinions.
Usually, arguments break out when we’re too busy focusing on being right. So, we shove facts down each other’s throats, and since we’re both so focused on being “right,” NO ONE learns anything.
Don’t get me wrong. Being informed is important. Focusing on facts is important.
But when it comes to how to talk to a racist, they’ll only be able to listen to facts if they’re in a place to hear them.
If you feel the urge to prove them wrong with facts when they dig their heels in, think about WHY you want to do that.
Is it because you want to prove them wrong?
Did they say something that you let offend or upset you?
Go back to the INTENTION you set before the talk.
There are a few more things to do before we share facts.
2) The best way to create space is by asking thought-provoking questions and allowing them the SPACE to answer.
When you get past their initial “arguments,” facts, and opinions, you can ask probing questions to understand why they are the way they are.
This is when you start to see if they only look at one news source or if it’s as simple as they misunderstand entirely.
Maybe you can start to see they’re loud with their opinions because they’re scared of being wrong and looking bad. Or perhaps they’re afraid of losing something.
You’ll never be able to know if they don’t open up.
3) It’s going to sound A LOT like they’re talking more than you, and that’s GOOD.
The most persuasive people aren’t the ones who scream the loudest or talk the most, they’re the people who say intentional words that forces you to think. You want the person you’re talking to feel like they HAVE to answer hard, thought-provoking questions they’ve never thought to ask themselves.
When people fiercely believe something, they usually don’t ask themselves WHY they believe that or if it’s aligned with who they want to be.
DON’T ask probing questions and move right into YOUR facts, arguments, etc. THIS IS HUGE!!!
Sit silently and MAKE them answer these questions (yes, TOTALLY silent).
The most crucial part is for them to think more profoundly than what comes to the top of their heads. They can’t do this if you don’t give them space to.
Not allowing space is how arguments spin out of control. When BOTH people are too impatient to get out all the reasons they’re “right.”
If tempers and emotions flare-up
1) Speak in low and even tones.
My former HR manager taught me this trick to calm employees if they started to get hostile. If someone is coming at you (like their voice gets louder, or their body language stiffening), speak in low even tones. You can hear examples of this in episode 48 – How to Sound Confident.
After a while of their raised voice, they’ll eventually come back down when they realize they’re the only ones screaming. When you do this, it shows them that you’ve set the tone for the conversation. It also shows them that THEY can’t make YOU react in any way you don’t want to. They can’t rely on saying something offensive to get you riled up.
You also show yourself that YOU’RE the only one in control of your emotions, not another person.
2) If you see them getting visibly upset, ask them why.
Remind them that it’s not your intention to make them feel wrong or stupid. Again, this isn’t you needing to comfort them or to excuse their behavior in any way.
Asking them why they’re getting upset and letting them be honest will redirect your communication in a way that will be more effective. Remember, you want this conversation to lead them to ask themselves, “Is it possible I’ve been wrong?”
Remind yourself of the intention you set before you started this conversation. The goal is for them to question their beliefs, they can’t do that if they are defensive or trying to protect themselves.
Great open-ended questions to use for ideas
This sounds simple, but it’s SO effective. Asking why allows that space for them to get their side out. You can use this in almost infinite different ways.
- Like just by itself.
- “Why does that make a difference?”
- “Why would that matter to you?”
- “Why is that an issue?”
This is a way for them to start to question themselves. But the ONLY way this works is if you stay silent and make them answer that, instead of moving too quickly to the next question.
I mentioned this in the last episode, but Deeyah Khan, a Muslim woman who interviewed members of Neo-Nazi organizations in her documentary White Right: Meeting the Enemy, does this beautifully.
You can actually see these people squirm in their chairs when she asks open-ended questions that make them contradict what they said earlier.
2) Are you open to looking at a different perspective?
If you have your own stats or facts to back up your arguments, ask them if they’re open to hearing them. This is a fascinating question, regardless of how they answer.
If yes share your opinions, of course, (in low and even tones.)
If not, you can ask them why. THIS will be really insightful.
3) What does the phrase “Black Lives Matter” mean to you?
Likely, they’ll spout a bunch of “facts” stats, etc… again, just let them get that out. DON’T INTERRUPT HERE.
Once they get done talking, follow up with, “What does the PHRASE ‘black lives matter’ ITSELF mean?” I mean, make them define that as a dictionary… eventually getting to the point that Black Lives actually matter, and are as important as other lives.
They may try to diverge here and go back to their “facts.” Remember, people consciously and unconsciously LOOK for evidence supporting their beliefs. But you can redirect them to the fact that black people matter, too.
4) Ask them what’s important to them? (like values, religion, etc.)
Usually, most humans want peace, kindness, etc. (unless they’re sociopaths), but that’s often buried under defensiveness and the fear of their lives changing or of being wrong. I can’t stress this enough, just because you remember that, does NOT mean you condone their actions.
If you can connect with the MOST human part of them, it’ll be much easier to communicate in a way that will have an impact on them.
When I feel myself wanting to react to emotions like Anger that can pop up, I’m talking to a Racist; I remind myself of this.
Almost everyone has a code they live by, even if it doesn’t seem evident to you in the conversation. If you can remember that — and make THEM remember that — then you’re much more likely to have an impactful discussion with them.
P.S. If you want 1-on-1 help with having tough conversations, thought work, or feeling confident, then schedule a call with me. We’ll go through what’s in the way, and come up with a step by step plan to help you. Use the scheduler below to pick a date and time that works for you, and I’ll be in touch.