We’re all familiar with the “I’m not racist but…” refrain – whether this is explicitly said, or implied – and know exactly what is going to come next. No one wants to be called out as having racist, prejudiced or discriminatory views, however it’s important that we challenge these values when we come across them.
Hope Not Hate’s ‘Difficult Conversations’ training, which was delivered to members of SEIN on Friday 1st February, aims to offer ways to do this that will encourage the person holding these views to recognise & re-evaluate their prejudices.
This is difficult. Instinctive reactions such as getting angry or upset, defensive, demeaning or patronising are very easy to slip in to but can more often than not end up fanning the fire or shutting the conversation down. Like anything, effectively challenging prejudice in a way that will genuinely change minds is a skill that takes practise.
Hope Not Hate give a few tools to help:
1. Remember who you are speaking to
Gauging the position of the person you are speaking to is important. How active are they in their opposition to the change you are trying to bring about? How might their life experience have differed to your own & how might this have affected the world view that they hold?
2. Build trust and get the dynamic right
We are all far more likely to engage with, listen to & be challenged by people that we trust. This is crucial, then, to holding a difficult conversation successfully. Hope Not Hate remind us to try to respect the person who is speaking but not the views they are holding – for example, someone is likely to react better to being told that what they have said or done is racist, rather than being called a racist.
In order to do this, they encourage using ‘empathetic listening’ and ‘Socratic questioning’.
Empathetic listening is essentially active listening that truly hears what the other person is saying, and lets them know that they have been heard. It includes the use of open questions, summarising, clarifying & showing understanding of what is being said. Doing this does not show agreement with the speaker but simply lets them know they have been heard, which is likely to open them up to being questioned and hearing you.
Socratic questioning is a way of asking questions which builds a dialogue rather than trying to ‘inform’ or ‘teach’ the person you’re talking to. This includes using questions of clarification; probing assumptions; questioning perspectives and viewpoints & investigating consequences. They key thing here is that you are steering the interaction to a discussion in which, together, you unpick what the assumptions are (& where these have come from) that underlie their ideas & actions, rather than engaging in a back & forth of ‘facts’.
3. Be aware of their (& your own) ‘confirmation bias’
It is a very natural human quality to slip in to the comfort-zone of ‘confirmation bias’ – allowing ourselves to hear the things that back up what we want to believe. Our minds can be quite happy to block information that contradicts with our world view. Being aware of this tendency is helpful for understanding where the ‘blocks’ are coming from and finding ways around these.
This is just a brief overview of some of what was covered in the session, though their summary of points below is a helpful starter when considering how to tackle that difficult conversation.
As ever, knowing the theory is only the beginning – but next time you find yourself engaged in a difficult conversation, give this a go, think about what went well or not so well afterwards & keep trying. Though you may not always get to see the ripples, the effect of changing one mind can be powerful.
- Remember who you’re speaking to & target your message accordingly
- Always start by listening and questioning
- The people we are speaking to are not our enemies, and we should feel confident about our values
- Most often, stories work better than facts
- If we are to use facts, we should use them appropriately
- You may be the first person taking the time to listen properly to them
- You are not going to win everyone over
Hope Not Hate was established in 2004 to offer a positive and engaged way of doing anti-fascism in the UK, countering narratives of hate & offering those of hope – they have lots of resources on their website which have fed in to the development of this training & their other work.