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Digital Subscriptions > Skeptic > 24.4 > How to Navigate Contentious Conversations

How to Navigate Contentious Conversations

THIS EXCERPT IS FROM OUR BOOK ABOUT HOW TO communicate effectively with people who hold radically different beliefs. We live in a divided, polarized era, and we’re not talking with each other. The repercussions of this are vast and deep, including the fear of speaking openly and honestly, an inability to solve shared problems, and lost friendships. In this article, taken from Chapter 5 of How to Have Impossible Conversations: A Very Practical Guide we provide some tools to help people navigate contentious conversations.

Keep Rapoport’s Rules

The Russian-born American game theorist Anatol Rapoport had a list of rules for offering disagreement or criticism in conversations. These rules are now known as Rapoport’s Rules, and they have been described by the American philosopher Daniel C. Dennett as “the best antidote [for the] tendency to caricature one’s opponent.” Dennett neatly summarizes Rapoport’s Rules in his book Intuition Pumps and Other Tools for Thinking. If your goal is to engage someone successfully, take these steps in this order:

—Attempt to re-express your target’s position so clearly, vividly, and fairly that your target says, “Thanks, I wish I’d thought of putting it that way.”

—List any points of agreement.

—Mention anything you have learned from your target.

—And only then are you permitted to say so much as a word of rebuttal or criticism.

Adhering to Rapoport’s Rules can be difficult, especially in a heated discussion, but it will significantly advance the civility and effectiveness of your conversations.

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About Skeptic

UNDERSTANDING FLAT EARTHERS WHO SAYS THE EARTH IS FLAT, AND WHY? COLUMNS The SkepDoc: Water Fluoridation: Public Health, Not Poison, by Harriet Hall, M.D. • The Gadfly: Are You in the 43 Percent?, by Carol Tavris DEBATE Does God Exist? A Rebuttal of Theologian Brian Huffling • God is Not a Moral Being: A Response to Gary Whittenberger on the Problem of Evil ARTICLES Understanding Flat Earthers • Shroud of Turin Update • The Girl Who Smelled Blue: The Colorful Case of Willetta Huggins • How to Navigate Contentious Conversations • How Much Longer Will Cancer Screening Myths Survive? • Nationalistic Pseudohistory in the Balkans • “Prove that I am Wrong!” What QAnon, Descartes, and Brains in Vats Have in Common REVIEWS Reviews of Mind Fixers: Psychiatry’s Troubled Search for the Biology of Mental Illness • The Human Swarm: How Tolerance of Strangers Creates Society • Darwin’s Apostles: The Men Who Fought to Have Evolution Accepted, Their Times, and How the Battle Continues • Forensic Science Reform: Protecting the Innocent • The Psychology and Sociology of Wrongful Convictions: Forensic Science Reform • Blinding as a Solution to Bias: Strengthening Biomedical Science, Forensic Science, and Law JUNIOR SKEPTIC Victorian England’s Jurassic Park, by Daniel Loxton