How to Have Impossible Conversations: A Very Practical Guide by Peter Boghossian and James Lindsay

This book is just necessary. Necessary to read, learn, understand, and reflect upon, especially given the polarized day-and-age that we are living in. It seems that there are impossible conversations going on all over the place, and on the flip side, no one knows how to have an actual conversation anymore because they all take place via text and on social media. Amongst many salient points, the authors make clear that social media is NOT where you should be having any discussion or disagreement, especially along political lines, because all we do is dig in our heels and spit out our “rehearsed” arguments that we hone on Facebook and the like. But I have actually used some of the tips in this book in conversations I have had with people in person, and there really is a lot to learn here. I wish that every politician across all spectrums would pick this one up — they might figure out how to listen to one another and get some things done.

  • Impossible conversations = conversations that feel futile because they take place across a seemingly unbridgeable gulf of disagreement in ideas, beliefs, morals, politics or world views
  • person across from you fails to speak with you and instead speaks at you
  • beliefs matter because people act upon their beliefs — whether those beliefs are true or not
  • listening, understanding, instilling doubt
  • making the other person in the conversation a partner, not an adversary
  • seven fundamentals for good conversations
  • goals/what’s your purpose?
  • partnerships — kindness, compassion, empathy, treating individuals with dignity and respect, exercising these considerations in psychologically safe environments
  • conversation partner — working together
  • shift goal from winning to understanding
  • this person is my partner in conversations and I want to learn from him
  • why they believe in it
  • civility, charity, mutual understanding
  • rapport — a kind of friendliness, the more individuals diverge in their stances, the more important it is to build and maintain rapport
  • ask a sincere question
  • how do you spend more of your free time? what are you passionate about?
  • listen — people find it deeply satisfying when they are heard/if you do not listen, you cannot understand
  • shoot the messenger — delivering messages does not work/conversations are exchanges, messages are information conveyed in a one way transaction
  • people tend to reject delivered messages and accept ideas they believe are their own
  • was i invited to share this?
  • intentions — people do not desire bad things
  • lacking a comprehensive picture contributes to the failure of arriving at correct conclusions
  • intention is to improve a bad situation
  • partner’s intention/their intentions are better than you think
  • walk away — changing one’s mind happens slowly and in a way that suits one’s individual psychology and habits. over time, new beliefs and attributes integrate with or entirely replace existing ones
  • try to end on a positive note
  • Nine ways to start changing minds — give others the gift of doubt, you need to possess it yourself
  • modeling — if you want her to listen to you, listen to her first
  • wilson/keil — ignorance of one’s ignorance/phenomenon of people who believe they understand how things work better than they actually do
  • Unread Library Effect — keil/rozenblit = illusion of explanatory depth, misunderstood limits of folk science
  • applies to political beliefs
  • having a participant explain policies in as much detail as possible
  • allows you the opportunity to listen and then they lead themselves
  • there are limits on your own knowledge
  • “i don’t know” = powerful
  • the more details you can ask your partner to provide the stronger the effect
  • words — liberals vs. conservatives the word welfare might mean two totally different things = means the same thing functionally but carries distinct moral connotations for different audiences
  • ask questions — socrates = focus your conversation on a specific question as opposed to a general topic
  • thoughtful, targeted questioning
  • open ended, invite conversation, calibrated, how or what questions
  • acknowledge extemists — passion makes you easy to hear, but it rarely convinces people they should listen
  • care about the right things, as seen from your partners perspective. sharing values
  • to win your partners trust across a moral divide, you must be able to demonstrate that you care about your partner and especially about the values your partner cares about
  • point out how extremists on your side go too far
  • your partner across the divide is likely to unfairly attache beliefs about extremists about your side to you
  • social media — this book applies to face to face interaction
  • social media damages relationships and contributes to our toxic environment
  • we evolved to converse face to face/when looking at someone, it’s usually easy to read tone, body language and facial expressions
  • facebook like a family party where anyone you’ve ever met might show up/how would you behave at such an event?
  • when people post something they want their view confirmed
  • we tend to cling even more tightly to our views in a public forum than in private
  • advantages? not limited by time or space/can take as long as you want to reply, think, or calm down
  • don’t blame, do discuss contributions — blame ends goodwill, immediately puts those blamed on the defensive, hinders problem solving and dissolves rapport
  • whataboutry — deflect blame from their side by forcefully asking “what about … “
  • look for contributions/blame is one sided
  • asking parallel questions about other contributing factors
  • blame invites defensiveness, hostility and incivility
  • epistemology — investigation of what distinguishes justified belief from opinion
  • study of knowledge, undertstand how we know what we know
  • helps people explain how they arrived at their conclusions, providing a fresh route around rehearsed messages
  • people are less threatened by having their epistemology probed than having their beliefs challenged
  • learn — opportunity to learn is conversational ace in the hole that will nearly always let you have a friendly profitable conversation, no matter the topic
  • once a person has been heard and understood, they’re more likely to open up to more productive two way dialogue/you’ll learn
  • seven ways to improve your interventions — set aside your pride, self confidence to admit what you don’t know
  • let friends be wrong — good relationships will keep you happy and healthy
  • let people be wrong, let your friend say something incorrect and let it go without indulging the urge to correct or argue
  • correcting people’s beliefs doesn’t go well
  • reasoning was in error
  • “you can be right or you can be married”
  • build golden bridges — means by which your conversation partner can change her or her mind gracefully and avoid social embarrassment
  • “no worries” “all good”
  • language — say that, not you
  • avoid using you/say that statement or that belief as opposed to your
  • reorient a negative statement to a positive one
  • reframing = more open dialogue and less negativity
  • change your mind — you should only say this if you’re sincere
  • introduce scales — on a scale of 1 to 10 …
  • outsourcing — broad strategy for turning to outside information to answer the question/how do you know that? where could we go to find that answer?
  • what it means to hold a belief based on evidence is by definition that one is open to the possibility that the evidence might be discovered that would change ones mind
  • socrates says that it’s better to be refuted than to refute/better to stop believing something false than it is to attempt helping someone stop believing something false
  • i’ve changed my mind is powerful and empowering phrase
  • five advanced skills for contentious conversations — focusing upon disconfirmation rather than confirmation
  • eliminating the word ‘but’
  • rapport’s rules — attempt to re-express your target’s position so clearly that they say thank you
  • list any points of agreement
  • mention anything you have learned from your target
  • then you can rebut or criticize
  • pro social modeling means demonstrating the behavior your want others to emulate, in the case of rules, you’re trying to model mutual respect and openness
  • avoid facts — many people believe what and how they do precisely because they do not formulate their beliefs on the basis of evidence — not because they’re lacking evidence
  • we tend to form beliefs on the basis of cherry picked selective evidence that supports what we already believe or what we want to believe
  • moral and social minds override rational minds (evolution, for example, where there is overwhelming evidence)
  • vaccine deniers want to be good parents/they think artificial means bad (what if something goes wrong?)
  • introducing facts gives her a reason to defend her beliefs against those facts
  • people become entrenched in their beliefs, dig in their heels/can rehearse defenses against challenges
  • ask questions that expose problems and contradictions
  • focus on epistemology
  • combine with disconfirming questions “what if … would you change your mind?”
  • seek disconfirmation — to show a statement is not or may not be true, to disprove or invalidate
  • the single most effective technique to instill doubt and help people change their minds is to ask “under what conditions could ___ be wrong? this is disconfirmation
  • it is generally accepted that truths of logic and math are not disconfirmable
  • if your goal is to help your partner revise her beliefs the easiest and fastest way to do this is by asking disconfirming questions
  • “How could that belief be wrong?”
  • if someone states their belief is not disconfirmable, they’re blaming to be absolutely positive about an aspect of reality where the belief operates
  • in the form of a question, present a possible state of affairs or a reason, but not evidence, for how the belief could be in error
  • Dennett — underlying belief that holding a certain belief makes them a better person is ‘belief in belief’
  • preventing them from seeing and acknowledging reasonable disconfirmation criteria
  • changing someone’s mind is usually a moral issue, not intellectual or epistemological
  • belief in belief is usually the issue
  • what would it take for someone to change their mind? clarify
  • conversation partner loses the ability to reflect on her beliefs and convince her self of what’s true, which is far more effective at helping people revise their beliefs than you telling her what’s true
  • epistemology to morality offer you a glimpse of why someone really holds a particular view
  • yes, and … — eliminate but, switch to and/yes and …
  • acknowledge your conversation partners opinion and your opinion can be simultaneously valid even there’s an apparent conflict
  • but places a hindering on the flow of ideas
  • yes and … invites him to explain more about his beliefs
  • present your views as an addition to, rather than a direct contradiction of, your opponents views
  • interesting is a good word too — you find what they said to be of note
  • when in doubt, exit — dealing with anger
  • it must be you who changes when your partner is angry
  • don’t blame/don’t make negative assumptions/don’t remain in a conversation if you feel unsafe
  • de-escalate or walk away
  • pause/don’t meet anger with anger
  • listen/say I’m sorry
  • recognize mounting anger
  • emotional refractory period
  • identify your anger triggers and defuse them ahead of time
  • identify words you know are likely to upset you
  • see the situation from your conversation partner’s perspective is essential and one of the most important skills a negotiator can possess
  • power of their point of view
  • six expert skills to engage the close minded
  • synthesis — modifying your beliefs by using your partners beliefs and disconfirmation statements
  • collaboratively arriving at a better understanding of the topic and developing a more refined, nuanced view
  • take your views and leverage the views of your partner to arrive at a more refined, informed and nuanced position while offering her a chance to do the same
  • choosing a moral belief, inviting counterarguments
  • invite your partner to help you formulate clear ways in which your belief could be wrong
  • weight disconfirmation conditions on their merits and don’t be wedded to being right
  • help vent steam — tell me more/listen
  • feelings are too intense or their emotions obstructively leak into the conversation
  • rapport’s rules
  • allowing a friend to vent should depend friendship
  • listen!
  • altercasting — person is cast into an alternate role fro which it is easier for them to be influenced/assign someone a socially relevant role
  • encourage self generalizations or solutions or behavior within that role
  • easily altercate someone as lazy or close minded — potentially manipulative
  • take their favorite solution off of the table
  • hostage negotiations — minimal encouragers (yeah, okay, i see)
  • mirroring — repeat the last few words of what someone said
  • keep the person talking and volunteering more information that may become useful later in the conversation
  • emotional labeling — give it a name
  • allow a person to save face
  • deal with small issues first
  • use specific examples or case histories rather than historical information
  • probe the limits
  • counter intervention strategies — interventions only work if your partner engages you
  • two keys to conversing with ideologues — one who is unwilling or unable to revise their moral beliefs
  • understand how an ideologues sense of morality relates to their personal identity/conversations about what happened, about feelings and about identity
  • moral conversation/identity issues/what it means to be a good or bad peson
  • moral issues ultimately rooted in the ideologues sense of identity, including their self perception as a moral person and their sense of belonging to a community
  • change the subject from their beliefs to how they know their beliefs are true and how their beliefs contribute to their sense of personal identity
  • how they came to the moral conclusions
  • affirm their identity as a good moral person
  • briefly acknowledge and affirm that being a good person is important to them
  • shift the conversation to values that inform beliefs, you deny people access to their well rehearsed defenses
  • moral epistemology is the process we use to get answers to those questions
  • rarely have we deeply pondered and scrutinized whether or not the process we use to come to moral knowledge can be relied upon to yield truth. but we think we have
  • an identity quake is the emotional reaction that follows from having one’s core values distrupted
  • affirming their senes of goodness, switching the conversation to values and identity, asking questions about moral epistemology
  • if your partner doesn’t vaccinate children, ask what qualities make someone a good mother? general moral terms
  • the more you want to hold the belief, the more difficult it will be to revise
  • in politics libs and cons and libertarians often talk past one another by failing to understand each others’ moral impulses
  • different groups have different moral institutions
  • effort to understand and speak on your conversation partner’s terms, including moral terms
  • impossible conversations are about moral beliefs rooted in ones sense of identity but they play out on the level of facts — really about the type of person the entrenched individual perceives herself to be (I am a good person and people believe this)
  • qualities, beliefs, attitudes and behaviors individuals believe make them good people or bad people, why it is important to hold the right views among those

I love books, I have a ton of them, and I take notes on all of them. I wanted to share all that I have learned and will continue to learn. I hope you enjoy.