Three Questions

Meeting with disagreement, disagreeableness, or downright “irrational” behavior, there are three good questions to ask:

First, how is the other person correct? Statistically speaking, they’re probably not psychotic or a true sociopath — so they’re not making an obviously wrong, harmful, or inconsistent decision in their own minds. They might not be right, but there’s not much ground for conversation until you can understand what ground they’re standing on.

Second, where’s the fear? Most of the time, apparently irrational behavior stems from fear. Listen closely enough to find that and you’ll go a long way toward understanding what’s really driving the conversation.

Third, where can we go from here — and how? This is the question that prevents empathy from turning into groundless relativism. Listening to understand does not require agreement, but nor does it allow for compulsion.

Neither stridency nor just the facts are effective at moving people past their fears. Instead, they have to be enrolled — reminded of other genuine values that transcend the ones they’re fixated on while standing in a place of fear.