Talking to people that think differently

Clinical psychologist Hector Garcia joins Peter Montoya in a conversation about practical strategies to follow when talking to people that have different political beliefs.

So, Peter, it’s funny, I gave a talk last weekend and somebody in the audience asked me, they said, Dr. Garcia, how should we talk to somebody with whom we disagree politically?

Like a family member? And immediately I thought of your book, so I had my own answer to it. But I definitely want to hear what you have to say about that. How do we how do we talk to somebody on the other side, so to speak?

So I like you. I really want to have a lot of civil discourse to make sure that we’re actually vetting out issues, gaining more empathy from other perspectives so we as a society can actually collectively solve our problems.

Unfortunately, because of our tribalism, the tenor is such that we’re not able to really have those dialogs. So I’m going to give a couple of choices. So the first one would be this. If you decide… I very rarely these days get into political conversations.

That’s the first one. And the reason being is I don’t really find political conversations these days actually to be about policy. Most political conversations these days are actually just tribal signaling virtue signaling. And what people are doing largely is they’re picking the news du jour.

Whatever story broke yesterday or last week, could’ve been a riot, could’ve been the election results? And each side is tribe and I’m oversimplifying here, kind of drips down their talking points and it’s just these little phrases. And then each person, us and our families, will repeat the same talking points, these same phrases.

And we think we’re making an argument. But actually, all we’re doing is signaling which tribe we’re in. And so when the other person uses a different set of talking points, we know, hey, they’re not on our side and inside our midbrain just kind of lights up and then we’re very, very likely to get in arguments.

So that’s why it’s so volatile right now, is we’re not really debating, discussing, rationalizing about politics. All we’re really doing is saying, my dad can beat up your dad. Are you on my team? My team can beat up your team.

That’s what most political conversations are these days. So a lot of what you said, I think is is right on. And, you know, it makes me think about what messages we receive from the media, because a lot of times there are complex political issues with a lot of nuance.

But that’s not the way they get delivered through through through the media. So it’s almost as if the media you know, it’s not almost it very much literally is that the media gives the populace the soundbites that are very tribalistic.

They’re very dichotomized to make that sort of disagreement, those those tribalistic stances, you know, more likely. What are you what are your thoughts about that? I couldn’t agree more. So here’s one of my epiphanies is I really after thinking about it long and hard, I really don’t think I’ve got an original thought in my head at all when it comes to politics. There is a phrase that psychologists use, you know this one. It’s a cryptomnesia and cryptomnesia means that you absorb ideas, you absorb content from other places, you forget that you’ve heard it somewhere else and you assimilate it into your own thoughts, and then you regurgitate it as if it was your idea. And the truth is, if you really pay attention to it, there’s very few people who actually have original thinking when it comes to the news, politics, social issues. And Dr. Garcia, you are one of them, by the way.

I don’t put myself in that category. I know how original thoughts because I’ve read your work. Thank you. Well, let me tell you, I like what you’re doing here. You know, and I think there are original thoughts in your book.

I read it from cover to cover, but I like what you’re doing here. It’s you know, you’re expressing ways to communicate across a very fractured nation. And I think there are some very psychologically savvy points that you make.

But it’s in a way that the average person can understand. And we absolutely, absolutely need that. And we need that discussion. You know, we’ve seen each other become my first choice is not to do it. Then my second choice, if I’m going to go into those most conversations, I almost always set some ground rules and they sound kind of like this. Hey, just so you know, I’m glad to have this conversation with you. But do me a favor. Do me a favor. Please don’t try to change my mind. And I promise not to try to change your mind.

I love to hear your side of this so I can understand your side better. And I would love to share mine, too. So that’s one of the things that I do. And then the next thing I do is I always look for some way to agree with a point they made.

And as soon as you do that, their defense is almost always, not always, but almost always drop a little bit. And it can be as simple as simple as that is a really good point you raised. And that’s a great question that I haven’t heard anybody ask before.

You raise some interesting facts that I got to go look at those. Those are great. And as soon as you acknowledge the person’s point, it usually takes a lot of attention out. That’s my second strategy, is to set some ground rules and then find some points of agreement.

Yeah. And sometimes it can be hard, right. It’s a skill that if you’re if you’re speaking to somebody who’s, you know, thoughts about politics, thoughts about, you know, civil rights or whatever, whatever the topic du jour is, if you’re talking to somebody whose beliefs are so drastically different from yours, that’s not always easy to do.

It’s a skill that you have to to practice, I think. But I think I think you’re right. It’s what you’re talking about is very similar to what happens in in in couples counseling and teaching people how to to communicate better with their spouse or even assertiveness training, just communication skills in general, teaching how to do what’s called reflective listening. So even if you don’t agree with what the person is saying, like just repeating back what they said, OK, so what you’re saying is blank sometimes just the person knowing that you heard what they said and it diffuses, like you said.

Right. And if you can find a point of agreement, even a small point, even better. I’ve got a third technique, by the way. So this is the third technique that I’ve got. So my first technique is not talk about politics, because really all we’re doing is saying, what tribe are you in?

My second technique is to find points of agreement and to empathize with them. And here’s my third technique. So every once in a while, we’ll be having a conversation with a friend and they will elicit a point of view which is so outrageous and so immoral and so volatile to you that you’re going, oh, my God, how

can they think like that? You want to go, what the heck are you thinking? Are you out of your mind? And when you have that reaction, that is the absolute worst thing you can do. So I borrowed this technique of how you deal with narcissists, and it’s called either gray rocking or gray stoning.

And so when someone shares with you a political opinion that or social opinion that is immoral to you, and you go, I can’t acknowledge this and say, I hear you a great point. You don’t want to do that.

And then you also don’t want to give them any kind of sense, even a headshake or an eye roll will put them into a defensive posture and they will actually double down on that. So the best thing to do is absolutely nothing.

And so how you stop a narcissist from dominating you is to be like a gray rock and give the least possible expression. That means you’re a gray rock. You don’t move your facial fixtures. You don’t nod, you don’t smile, you don’t smirk.

You don’t say yes. You just go dead. Hold on them. And what happens is, in most circumstances, it doesn’t always work, but they usually get so uncomfortable that they change the topic and subconsciously they know they now have a bumper.

Kind of like a speed bump going down the road, though. Maybe I shouldn’t talk about that again. I wasn’t rejected, but it just was so uncomfortable. I’m not going to do it again. Yeah, that’s very interesting. You know, sometimes certain people will feed off emotional responses.

But, you know, that’s also very akin to, you know, teaching communication skills. A lot of times, body posture, emotion in some kind of facial gesture, tone of voice like non-verbals are more strongly tied to emotion than than actually what the person’s saying.

So that can elicit huge amounts of information because because those gestures are, you know, are very old. Like before we even had language, we communicated with facial gestures and body posture and things like that. So they go straight to the emotion centers of the brain.

What you’re saying is don’t even don’t even go there. Right. It’s so amazing because they happen so quickly. And so subconsciously, it could be as simple as it could be that simple. The other person will pick up on it.

You might think they don’t, but they will automatically puts them into a more defensive posture. If you are more committed to national unity than partisanship, please check out my book, The Second Civil War: A Citizen’s Guide to Healing Our Fractured Nation.

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