Stop Engaging in Bad Faith Conversations with People

Weeks after the death of George Floyd, I wanted to give a statistical analysis of a variety of factors in America based on racial demographics. It was initially for myself but I also wanted to share this information as an attempt to contribute something different from what I was seeing all over the internet, overly emotional responses. I purposely left my opinions out of it, gave context to the information and even gave my thought process during my research. At the very end, I gave a summary based on all the information I gathered without trying to be biased. (Click here to read it in full)

Hours after posting this long and detailed information, one of my relatives felt they needed to talk to me asap on the phone. The conversation was initially calm as they were telling me how they didn’t like that I listed one particular statistic as it is “something that white supremacists say”. Which statistic? That, in total, more white unarmed people are shot and killed by the police than blacks. I explained to them that right after I listed that statistic, I recognized that unarmed blacks being killed by the police is still disproportionally higher based on population. There was no deception on my part, but their emotion had them overlook that caveat.

The conversation became more heated and ultimately becoming redundant. I realized that this conversation isn’t about seeking truth or even rationality; it was about outwardly venting their anger towards me based on bad faith. Once I started realizing this, I blatantly asked “Do you think I’m okay with racism?” At first they gave an answer that was not definitive, so I interrupted them and asked it again with a demand of giving me a simple yes or no response. Their answer: Yes.

What do I mean by “Bad Faith”? My definition of bad faith is that the person you’re speaking with does not believe you are speaking from a place of care but a place of hatred. If you believe the person on the other side of the phone is a Nazi, you would presume they are coming from a place of hatred. It doesn’t matter if they are a Nazi, it only matters what you presume it to be true. Once that person believes the assumption to be true, there is no genuine conversation to be had, only a debate.

Debates are for people who want to posture for a winning position but debates aren’t conversations and they are rarely constructive. Conversations involve genuine listening when the other person is speaking and not having a rebuttal ready before the other person finishes with their statement. The other essential component of a conversation is establishing good faith between the parties. It is required for me to believe that you do not have contempt for myself, that you do not believe I’m hateful and that you do not question my intelligence. I need to have faith that you view me as an equal even if we disagree and my faith needs to be true as well. Like that conversation with my relative, if I smell even a hint of bad faith, the discussion is over and I will move on.

We believe we are having conversations with people, especially over social media, but at best we are engaging in bad faith conversations. Most of our so-called discussions are simply arguments and we have grown too used to talking at people instead of with people. Some of us would rather spend hours virtually shouting at people we will never meet rather than seeking people we can learn from with good faith in mind. One thing you can’t buy is “time”, making it extremely valuable. So, why waste such value on worthless discussions?

Here are some Tips for having a Productive Conversation:

  1. Establish good faith – Make sure that the person who you’re speaking with believes that you have good intentions and want a non-confrontational discussion. Find a good faith baseline and if you suspect the other person believes you not above that threshold, question them. If they confirm your suspicion as being true, abort the mission. There is no point continuing forward unless you’re a glutton for punishment.
  2. If they are emotional, acknowledge it – Some people start their reasoning based on emotions instead of facts. This isn’t right or wrong, this is just the reality of people. If you are a more logical person, don’t be frustrated by this. Acknowledge their emotions and be genuine about it. Listen to them. Once you do this, you will probably put them at ease because people who are like just don’t like it when their emotions are discarded. Once you acknowledge their emotions, then they will become more open to listening to your logic.
  3. If they are logical, combat them with more logic – I fall into this category. I think in a more logical way until it makes sense to me, but I can still be wrong. People have changed my mind a multitude of times and it was because they made a better argument that was more logical. Go as far as giving statistics or studies if you want to prove your point.
  4. Stop trying to convince people, just try to be heard – When you are trying to convince people, you will begin to dive into the realm of debate because you want to establish who is “right” and who is “wrong”. A conversation is about being heard, discussing the issue, and walking away with additional information that you never considered before.
  5. If you can, move conversations off the Internet – Maybe it’s a generational thing, but I grew up talking on the phone with people and listening to people’s tone of voice. While phone calls help you miss out on facial cues, it is far better than assuming the tone of a Facebook or Twitter post. Whenever you read something online, understand that you are always interpreting it to the best of your ability and so is the person you are writing to (always keep this in mind). If you know this person, don’t speak about nuanced or controversial topics online, call them. You’ll save yourself so much confusion and headache because of a possible misinterpretation.


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