What is this conversation style called, and how can I deal with it bette
June 25, 2020 6:10 AM   Subscribe

Someone who is very close to me has a conversation style that is interesting at best, deeply frustrating at worst. Whenever they engage in this manner of discussing something with me I find it difficult not to get annoyed. How can I deal with it better, as a grown-up?

Here's an example of this that just happend -- which is what prompted this question (context: I am a cishet white man, who happens to be a photographer).
Them, reading something online: I should think not.

Me: Sorry?

Them: This thing I'm reading. It's by a black woman who's saying that white male artists really shouldn't be putting out work right now, that they should stay quiet and let people whose voices have been marginalised be heard. I should think that you feel the same way given that you're a BLM supporter and everything.

Me: Well, I mean, it's something I've thought about, but not much right now.

Them: So you agree that you shouldn't be doing much self-promotion?

Me: I'm not doing any self-promotion right now; I'm concentrating on work that I can do in lockdown.

Them: Right, but you agree?

Me: I don't really know, I haven't thought about it much.
I was able to not get annoyed in this case because it's something I have been struggling with, but this kind of conversation, where my thought-process is sort of presumed before I've even become involved in the conversation, happens a great deal. Often it escalates into a mini row because I really don't like having other people guess what I'm thinking, and I feel like I have to argue just to get what I actually think to be recongised (and that, in itself, can cause a further argument if it differs too much from what this person thought I thought).

What is this weird style of conversation called? Is there a better way for me to handle this than saying "Excuse me, please don't suppose that you know what I'm thinking?"
posted by gmb to Human Relations (38 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
 
sounds like a variation on a straw man argument.

God, that sounds annoying! Shut it down.
posted by fingersandtoes at 6:17 AM on June 25 [14 favorites]


Would it work to describe to this person what you *would* like conversationally rather than (only) what you don't want? I have a hard time with this kind of situation too but maybe something like "I'm interested in discussing this but I want/need for it to be a two-way conversation where we can both share our thoughts."
posted by needs more cowbell at 6:22 AM on June 25 [1 favorite]


I find "I don't need your agreement" (or in your case, "you shouldn't need my agreement") to work well.
When someone says, "I think XYZ; don't you agree?" it's best to say nothing. Leave them on the hook of their own making.
Man, this person wants to act as Thought Police!
posted by BostonTerrier at 6:23 AM on June 25 [8 favorites]


Sounds double plus ungood to me.
Buddy of mine lives with his mom. Drives his mom's car.
Talks in the same manner. Criticism of others, and their actions; but in twisted words.

The guy probably isn't involved in anything equality based in any way; other than to stoke disruption, or to seek disagreement.

FIAMO.
posted by Afghan Stan at 6:23 AM on June 25 [2 favorites]


I’ve had coworkers like this. I‘Ve dealt with it by not giving them anything to hang on to. “You must feel this way don’t you?“ “Dunno.“ “But if you’re Y you must believe Z." "Eh."

It turns out that not everybody is entitled to my opinion.

On the other hand, I frequently use this technique when purposefully annoying/provoking a friend of mine. I have to say it works fairly well.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 6:31 AM on June 25 [6 favorites]


I would call this style of conversation presumptuous and argumentative. They're assuming they know your stance on something which they have already dismissed, and then they are demand you defend your presumed opinion. It escalates into a fight because that's their intention - to goad and rile you.

I wouldn't really take this as a good faith attempt to interact with me, or to learn what I'm thinking. They don't deserve your full interaction and there's no reason to defend your thinking to them.

I would try to engage as little as possible. Just say, "huh" or "okay" or ignore completely or leave the room. There's something called the grey rock method you could look into, which is all about being non-responsive and boring with these type of people.
posted by See you tomorrow, saguaro at 6:37 AM on June 25 [13 favorites]


It used to be widely accepted that people should have an opinion on everything, ready to go. It was taught in schools (particularly schools for the richer classes). It goes hand-in-hand with an emphasis on oration and debate. I've sometimes come across the attitude in people who were educated in India, where ideas from British colonial education seem to have lingered in some places.

You even find a reference to the idea in a Beatles song (the lines 'Doesn't have a point of view. Knows not where he's going to' in Nowhere Man imply that a lack of strong opinion is a character flaw). It's an idea that seems peculiarly stuffy these days, when most liberal people would consider open-mindedness and the ability to challenge our own preconceptions to be a good thing.

So yes, there are people who insist that you should have a view on any topic they might pull out of a hat. As for a name, I'd just call it an old-fashioned, over-privileged attitude towards truth.
posted by pipeski at 6:38 AM on June 25 [10 favorites]


Honestly I'd call it "goading" or "picking a fight" with a strong element of "straw man" & overgeneralization - clearly there's a position they don't agree with, and they want to argue or rant about it, and since they know you hold a position very generally related to the one they object to, they're picking you to argue with by kind of trying to force you to defend what they want to argue about.

Is there a better way for me to handle this than saying "Excuse me, please don't suppose that you know what I'm thinking?"

I, personally, think this is fine - how forceful you want to be about it should probably depend on your relationship with this person. I mean, it's perfectly ok to support something wide-ranging like "Black Lives Matter" without strongly supporting every single possible variation or even having considered every single possible ramification.

And again depending on your relationship, it might be worth asking "Why do you want to argue about this?" and "Why do you want to argue about this with me?" (Like, there are no shortage of places on the internet to argue about this stuff, if they're carping at you just because you're the nearest warm body, that's really not cool.)
posted by soundguy99 at 7:00 AM on June 25 [9 favorites]


I know you're looking for a more nuanced answer than this but I think this "weird style of conversation" is called "being an asshole." This is just garden-variety picking a fight. They're not interested in learning your thoughts, they're interested in challenging you on any difference of opinion and bullying you into agreeing with them.

The only way to win this game is not to play. It's Dog Training 101: Don't reward the behavior. Whenever they do this shit, just kind of vaguely say "I don't know" then wander off with your cup of coffee as if you have something very distracting on your mind. Be consistent!
posted by HotToddy at 7:02 AM on June 25 [12 favorites]


This is a common (not always effective...) method to frame up testimony, in part because it’s thought to keep the answerer confined into exactly what the questioner wants them to say with no digressions or diversions. I think this is why it comes across as irritating to you. It’s uncomfortable to be questioned like this, one step away from someone going “yes or no? I said yes or no!” You could try saying, “if you want to know my opinion, please just ask what I think, rather than whether I agree with your presumption about my views.”
posted by sallybrown at 7:17 AM on June 25 [23 favorites]


Mean Girls:
Regina: But you're, like, really pretty.
Cady: Thank you.
Regina: So you agree?
Cady: What?
Regina: You think you're really pretty?
Cady: Oh... I don't know

This is also literally "putting words in your mouth". They say a thing, they say "I should think you feel the same way being a BLM supporter and all" and then rather than letting you actually say what you do or don't agree with, or elaborate your thoughts on it, they want a yes-or-no answer. Either you "repudiate your principles" (where they win, and you are exposed as a hypocrite) or "stick to your guns" (where you are obviously wrong and pigheaded).
posted by Hypatia at 7:17 AM on June 25 [13 favorites]


Don't talk about important issues in quick asides.

I've recently realized that these kinds of impromptu discussions tend to add to tensions between people; there's not really time or focus enough to deal with a whole person, and dealing with only a sliver of a perception of a person, especially around complex and emotionally fraught subjects, leads to devastating misunderstandings, pain, and impossible dynamics.

I've made it a point to make time for real discussions with the person I'm living with, which seems to help. It's important to both be in a receptive mood, not hungry, not tired, not rushed, and able to be our best selves. We both get the 'real' versions of each other, and not a side comment that is easy to misinterpret.

If you only get five words from someone, chances are those five words have been uttered uncharitably by someone at some time, and the associations are hard to escape.

If the topic is important, then it deserves real attention. If it's not that important, then don't waste your time and attention just confirming your own biases about it.
posted by amtho at 7:21 AM on June 25 [6 favorites]


It's a provocative variant of the Socratic method?

'The basic form is a series of questions formulated as tests of logic and fact intended to help a person or group discover their beliefs about some topic; exploring definitions, and seeking to characterize general characteristics shared by various particular instances.'
posted by einekleine at 7:29 AM on June 25 [1 favorite]


I guess I have a different take on this than everyone else. The example doesn't exactly sound argumentative to me. It just sounds like the other person is trying to pin down what your opinion really is (and wanting it to be the one they agree with, even pushing you a bit to agree with what they think is right.) Your answers were all (perhaps intentionally) really vague and didn't make it clear what you thought. Saying, "So you agree?" sort of forces you to say either yes or no. Or at least that's what the other person probably hoped the effect would be, but you still avoided the question one more time. It sounds like once you finally stated that you didn't actually know how you felt about the issue the conversation stopped because the other person realized they had learned about as much as they were going to learn about your opinion.
posted by Redstart at 7:31 AM on June 25 [2 favorites]


Since this is a person you are very close with and presumably want to have mutually satisfying interactions with I would suggest pivoting the conversation in a way that encourages this person to examine their assumptions.

So when they say, "look at this ridiculous thing, you agree so you're equally ridiculous right?" You can answer with a question that displays curiosity about their own interpretations, "why would you think that?" And then go a few rounds of questions, you might then understand why they are making assumptions and can correct them

You can also just shut the conversation down. I do that with a close relative who likes to be a contrarian sometimes and get into fruitless debates
posted by brookeb at 7:31 AM on June 25 [4 favorites]


So when they say, "look at this ridiculous thing, you agree so you're equally ridiculous right?"

That's interesting; I assumed in this example the other person agreed with the statement they were reading and wanted the OP to agree with it as well. But I guess it could be the opposite.
posted by Redstart at 7:35 AM on June 25 [3 favorites]


I assumed in this example the other person agreed with the statement they were reading and wanted the OP to agree with it as well.

It's the "I think not" opening statement by the other person that's making us (well, me, anyway) feel like they're disagreeing.
posted by soundguy99 at 7:43 AM on June 25 [3 favorites]


To me the “person I’m close with” part matters - I might be more forceful in just shutting conversation down if it was a relationship I wasn’t invested in. If there is generally mutual respect, there can be room for more nuance.

Also it took me a few reads but I’m gathering the “I should think not” was basically “yeah, I should think white men should definitely not be sharing their work right now.”
posted by needs more cowbell at 7:47 AM on June 25


Yuck. I've been in these 'conversations' before.

One option is to deflect. You know that non- committal responses will spark more push for agreement, so shift the dialog to needing more time or information.

"That sounds interesting, can you forward the article to me so I can read it too, and we can talk about this later once I've read it?"

If further pushing happens just say you want to understand the full context of the writer's point of view.

Or you could address the underlying issue using a non-violent communication technique:

"When you push me to agree with you on something I havent fully considered, it makes me feel overwhelmed. I need more acceptance of my thought process. Next time, can you please send me the article and give me time to think about it first?
posted by ananci at 7:52 AM on June 25 [3 favorites]


To clarify, since it's come up, the position that the other person was taking was "White men should not be sharing -- or even making -- artistic work of their own, and should only be amplifying the voice of black artists and other artists of colour."
posted by gmb at 8:02 AM on June 25


It's the "I think not" opening statement by the other person that's making us (well, me, anyway) feel like they're disagreeing.

I read the "I think not" as "Yeah, I think white male artists should not be putting out work now." I guess the real intent is a bit unclear here.
posted by sillysally at 8:55 AM on June 25


My take is aligned with Redstart’s: “The example doesn't exactly sound argumentative to me. It just sounds like the other person is trying to pin down what your opinion really is (and wanting it to be the one they agree with, even pushing you a bit to agree with what they think is right.)”

I think this person is bringing up issues that are important to them, values wise, and hoping to confirm that you share the same values. This example, checking to see where you stand on an issue related to race and representation and amplifying marginalized voices, is not a niche or obscure issue right now. This person knows you support Black Lives Matter and as you said yourself, you’ve been wrestling with this issue yourself as a white male photographer.

Does your conversational partner belong to a marginalized group? You find this conversational style irritating because you don’t like them presuming to know what you think, but they may want you to acknowledge the urgency of the issue (by sharing an opinion on it) if it’s a lot less theoretical for them than for you.

As a cis het white man, you have the luxury of race and gender issues being things you can take time to ponder and decide, eventually, to act on. Your interlocutor may be trying to get you to see that that’s a luxury many other people in this world don’t have. Sure, they’re doing it in a way that makes you feel uncomfortable, but if you do support Black Lives Matter, you’ve probably been doing some reading around race, and one of the concepts that comes up is: people in the majority position (especially cis het white men) are going to have to start sitting with feeling uncomfortable. They’re going to have to stop dodging and avoiding the things that marginalized groups don’t have a choice but to think about all the time.

As a woman of colour I have made these bids for connection with my cis het white male partner. These issues of race and gender are important to me. I need to know he’s got my back and is thinking about these issues because it’s not a theoretical for me. He and I may not always agree on the how (of fighting racism and sexism), but the what (that they need to be fought against) is something I need confirmation on.

Could this be what is going on in this relationship and in these conversations? Do you share your thoughts and struggles around issues of race? If not, that itself may be what is prompting this style of conversation that you find annoying.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 9:03 AM on June 25 [14 favorites]


Does your conversational partner belong to a marginalized group? You find this conversational style irritating because you don’t like them presuming to know what you think, but they may want you to acknowledge the urgency of the issue (by sharing an opinion on it) if it’s a lot less theoretical for them than for you.
Yes, this person is part of a marginalised group.
As a cis het white man, you have the luxury of race and gender issues being things you can take time to ponder and decide, eventually, to act on. Your interlocutor may be trying to get you to see that that’s a luxury many other people in this world don’t have. Sure, they’re doing it in a way that makes you feel uncomfortable, but if you do support Black Lives Matter, you’ve probably been doing some reading around race, and one of the concepts that comes up is: people in the majority position (especially cis het white men) are going to have to start sitting with feeling uncomfortable. They’re going to have to stop dodging and avoiding the things that marginalized groups don’t have a choice but to think about all the time.
Without derailing the thread, this is exactly my concern. I know that I need to shut up and listen, and the friction between that acknowledged duty and the desire to go and make art (which has nothing to do with BLM in any way) of my own is one that I am wrestling with (there's a lot of stuff to unpack there about mental health and perceived self worth which I'm trying to address, but that's not for this thread).

However, the person I'm talking about is not usually a supporter of BLM, in the sense that when talking about it they a lot of things that fall into the "I understand their anger but cannot condone what they are doing" category -- it's a discussion I try and avoid because this person is someone whom, for various reasons, I do not wish to get into arguments with. You can see how this conversation seemed confusing to me, given that context.
posted by gmb at 9:28 AM on June 25


It could be a form of baiting. Or, being more charitable to your conversation partner: it could be that they truly want to know what you think and lack a better way of asking. Instead of asking you directly, or sharing their own thoughts, they’ve presented someone else’s opinion to get your feedback.

The most awkward part of this seems to be that they were just reading something and muttered out loud and you took the bait (if that’s what it was).

Something you could try: ask what they think. So...

What you said:
I'm not doing any self-promotion right now; I'm concentrating on work that I can do in lockdown.
What you could say:
It’s pretty complex and I’m not sure what to think. What’s your take?
posted by bluedaisy at 9:57 AM on June 25 [3 favorites]


You may find it helpful to read about Logical Fallacies and ways to address them. The person here uses a bunch of You statements, and they can be responded to.

Them, reading something online: I should think not.
Me: Sorry?
Them: This thing I'm reading. It's by a black woman who's saying that white male artists really shouldn't be putting out work right now, that they should stay quiet and let people whose voices have been marginalised be heard. I should think that you feel the same way given that you're a BLM supporter and everything.
Me: Well, I mean, it's something I've thought about, but not much right now.
Them: So you agree that you shouldn't be doing much self-promotion?
Me: I'm not doing any self-promotion right now; I'm concentrating on work that I can do in lockdown.
Them: Right, but you agree?

Me: I don't really know, I haven't thought about it much.

active listening: You clearly have thoughts about this. What do *you* think?
blah, blah
reiterate your position, making it clear that they aren't really listening: As I said, it's something I've thought about, but not much right now. I wonder what upsets you so much about it.
blah, blah, trying to initiate conflict
make them responsible for their own opinions: It's a complex issue, I haven't developed a platform or anything. /waves hand. And you don't seem willing to commit to a position.

I spent years with a gaslighting, passive aggressive jerk who did this. When I learned to turn it back on him, and learned to not accept invitations to fight, poof, he left.
posted by theora55 at 10:25 AM on June 25 [3 favorites]


I'm the sort of horrible person who might do something like this on occasion and I know that it's maybe one of my most obnoxious traits. I do it to pin the other person down, when I feel they're being too wishy-washy, whether on purpose because they're arguing in bad faith or by negligence, because they haven't entirely thought through the implications/underlying assumptions of certain statements.

I'm rarely terribly moved by complaints about putting words in other people's mouth - we couldn't communicate at all if we're only allowed to consider the most explicit layer of meaning; I have to make my inferences anyway to derive any meaning from your communication and it's actually more transparent, if I communicate them to you. If that's not what you meant, you can clarify - and more efficiently now, since you know what exactly might have given me which wrong impresson. Rephrasing the other person's statement to make sure you understand it correctly is widely taught as a part of active listening after all, and I've often found that when people don't do this, the shared understanding the eventually reach is shallow and ephemeral.

But in your example the other person wasn't rephrasing anything, because you never made a statement in the first place. And I guess that's the main difference: I am fully aware that this sort of discoursive move is a conversation ender, not a conversation starter. I would never just pull that sort of shit out of the blue - I mostly do it when the other person wants to start a debate I'm tired of having. Making them admit that they don't have given it that much thought after all is absolutely one of the desired outcomes, because I'm not always in the mood to discuss certain things with people who just haven't given it that much thought and I feel perfectly justified in using strategies to signal that no, you really don't want to have this dicussion with me. "Shooting the shit"/"Just thinking out loud" can be a lot of fun, and I'm often game, but not every topic is suited for this.

To do that sort of thing without provocation however to someone who never pretended to have any particular insights on the matter does seem needlessly aggressive. This seems mostly about them, not you. I think you reacted as well as you could, by refusing to play along.
posted by sohalt at 11:12 AM on June 25


My husband used to do something that sounds somewhat similar — he'd express an opinion about something he was reading and ask what I thought. Only because I hadn't read the thing, it would be a matter of him providing a summary, me responding to that, then him adding more details from the article (that, again, I hadn't read) to refute what I was saying. After a while it made me very angry and felt like he was being intellectually manipulative.

At this point we have a policy that if he wants to discuss something with me, he has to wait until I've read it myself. I'm not going to waste my time knocking down straw men that he's set up by giving an inaccurate or inadequate summary of the article.

And sometimes I'll just say "I don't consider myself well-enough informed to have a useful opinion about this" and leave it at that.
posted by Lexica at 11:14 AM on June 25 [2 favorites]


One possibility is to look at the meta-message behind the conversation. Your person may be going through an internal process of reading something, getting emotionally upset and then looking for you to soothe them. It's not that they want an argument, but that the idea of white guys getting all the attention and giving out the wrong message is disturbing so they don't want to feel that it's going to keep on happening.

If you focus on the basic facts that have them upset enough to be demanding your agreement, maybe you can simply reflect it back at them in a way that doesn't debate if ever a white guy should be allowed to practice any art ever again. The key to this is to add some intensity to your agreement.

Them, reading something online: I should think not.

Me: Sorry?

Them: This thing I'm reading. It's by a black woman who's saying that white male artists really shouldn't be putting out work right now, that they should stay quiet and let people whose voices have been marginalised be heard. I should think that you feel the same way given that you're a BLM supporter and everything.

You, vehemently: White artists could easily take over the BLM and drown out black voices. That's terrible. We have to do whatever it takes to ensure that black voices are heard! It's so tone deaf when a white person becomes the spokesperson for black people. They haven't lived it, so they just can't know!!


Think of her as asking for emotional reassurance rather than her as trying to corner you. Nobody is saying that only black lives matter, but asking for an admission that white lives and blue lives matter too is tantamount to changing the subject to avoid the actual message. Similarly splitting hairs over where and when white artists should be speaking up is quibbling. I suspect that your friend thinks it is obvious that little white kids in kindergarten should be allowed to use finger paint, and the exact time/place/degree of exposure is still up to debate, the same way that if two cops are killed in a vehicle roll over while responding to a traffic accident it matters, but has nothing to do with BLM. She's probably not interested in if some white boy in middle school with a sketchbook secretly does anime drawings and she isn't advocating that his sketchbook be taken away from him.

So go with her meta message, and go all in. Agree with her, and mentally say to yourself, well, I agree with 85% of what she is saying so that is close enough to a yes. Remember this is someone who is hurting, so she is not the person to demand nuances from, or get into an argument with. Just bloody agree. Nobody is attacking you. She's asking you if you have her back and if she can trust you. Please just try to have her back.

Alternatively if you honestly believe she would enjoy explaining it to you ask her to enlarge on what she is saying, and use it as a fact gathering opportunity. Don't argue. "I don't know enough about it, tell me what's been going wrong." And then listen and look for as many parts of her explanation that you can agree with and verbally agree with all of them, and just ignore the parts that you don't agree with. If you want to be a good white ally, look up those bits that you don't agree with yourself and try and prove what she is saying to yourself. Don't look for evidence that denies what she is saying. If you are black and want to understand your own movement, look those things up and rely on your own experiences to question how much you agree with her and why not. If you are black you are in a position to have a different perspective that is valid. But if you are white, you are not. All you have to do is to look at the ratio of white to black artists getting gallery shows the ratio of white artists to black artists getting featured in articles and shows about the art world, the ratio of white artists to black artists getting decently paid employment doing art. If that number is less than 13.4% it will turn out that white artists are out-competing the black artists because of systemic racism.

In conversations about BLM it's a safe assumption that the black person is the expert, and the white person is at least partially in denial, at best.

C'mon, please? She's someone you are close to and she's marginalized and she's hurting. Provide some emotional support and don't be prickly.
posted by Jane the Brown at 12:02 PM on June 25 [2 favorites]


I am sohalt. That is, the precise conversation you're describing, where you haven't expressed any opinion and your person is guessing what you would want to say if you did say something, sounds obnoxious and I don't think there's much for you to do about not getting annoyed other than being boringly repetitive in response and hoping they give up. Or, depends on how unreasonable they are -- you could maybe be a little more explicit in your responses, along the lines of "I don't think you understood me. This is an important issue and a complicated one, and I haven't thought through it to my satisfaction yet. So I don't yet agree or disagree with anything you're saying, I really haven't made my mind up yet." I know people who would drop it in response to an answer like that, but also (unreasonable) people who would take it as picking a fight, so you'd have to know how that applies to your person.

But more generally, putting words in people's mouths is something I do all the time and I don't think is necessarily a problem, although I do get a strong negative response from some people and then I try to back off. The thing is, everyone is ambiguous and incomplete in conversation all the time, natural language isn't well suited for absolutely unambiguous communication. So, pretty often I want to be able to check that I'm really understanding someone else's position, and for me that means being able to restate it back to them in terms that they'll accept. Mostly people don't mind this much when I've understood them correctly, and my restatement is something they endorse completely, but there are definitely people who take it as an attack if I have misunderstood them.

If you're trying to be less annoyed by people who are "guessing what you're thinking", if it's part of a real conversation where you do have thoughts that you're trying to communicate to them, would it help if you thought of it less as guessing and more as their trying to check their understanding of what you're saying? It's going to be wrong sometimes, but better a wrong "guess" made explicitly than an ongoing misunderstanding.
posted by LizardBreath at 12:31 PM on June 25 [1 favorite]


Jane the Brown, I really appreciate your answer but I just wanted to clear this bit up:
In conversations about BLM it's a safe assumption that the black person is the expert, and the white person is at least partially in denial, at best.

C'mon, please? She's someone you are close to and she's marginalized and she's hurting. Provide some emotional support and don't be prickly.
To be clear: this person is part of a marginalised group, but I didn't say they were black or female -- they are neither.
posted by gmb at 1:11 PM on June 25 [3 favorites]


Thank you for your clarifications, OP. I guess given the specifics you’ve added, it really makes sense to try to figure out:

Is this person trying to bait me/goad me/catch me out somehow so they can attack me for my point of view?

Or

Is this person trying to wrestle with big issues in their own mind and wants to engage me in helping them sort out their own thoughts about, for example, Black Lives Matter, and intersections of race, gender, sexuality.

The answer to that question will influence how you move forward. If it’s not in good faith, you’re under no obligation to engage. If it’s in good faith despite being annoying or clumsy, you could decide to put in the emotional labour of working through these discussions with them—understanding that you don’t need to put up with someone belittling or attacking you no matter what the conversation topic is.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 1:53 PM on June 25 [2 favorites]


I'm not sure if these discussions always start this way, but in this case:

Them, reading something online: I should think not.

I would respond to this by assuming the person is thinking out loud while reading, not starting a conversation with me. They are talking to themselves, and might still be considering what they themselves think about what they are reading.

You seem to be finding these conversations frustrating. Consider that the other person might be finding these conversations frustrating as well. Maybe from their perspective you seem to always be interrupting them before they have had a chance to gather their thoughts. They aren't talking to you, they are talking to themselves.
posted by yohko at 4:06 PM on June 25 [2 favorites]


“At this point, I’m not doing much talking, I’m simply listening because I think as a cishet white man, that’s the least I can do. I’m pretty sure minority groups have heard enough from us, it’s time for them to take the floor. I want to understand more and do better.” Then you stop speaking.

What this does is give the other person the chance to talk and feel heard, and for you to learn something - assuming this is a conversation in good faith. Alternatively if they are actually spoiling for a fight, it’s a graceful way of not giving them one and being a bigger person all at once. Which hopefully you are anyway.
posted by Jubey at 7:40 PM on June 25


I'm with yohko. Context is relevant and possibly the other person will take lack of response as ignoring them (in which case, a conversation about conversational style and bids for connection and such would be warranted). But it seems like the rest of the conversation would be avoided if you did not respond to their initial cryptic and incomplete statement.
posted by eviemath at 8:03 PM on June 25 [1 favorite]


I would answer a question with a question: "how did you come to that conclusion?" "Why would I?" "That's a bit presumptuous of you, don't you think?" Make this about their thought processes, which is the actual issue at hand.

Empathy works by guessing what other people are feeling, and improves by testing your hypothesis. But that can be done equally well by asking what they feel rather than telling them. As such, I would call them out on it.
posted by How much is that froggie in the window at 10:37 PM on June 25


They're doing this in a crummy way, but: This is just their way of asking for some attention from you. They want to engage about this topic — or maybe just engage, period — and they’re prodding in this way. You can turn toward this offer, away from this offer, or against this offer. But it’s not necessarily about what it’s “about.”
posted by Charity Garfein at 11:37 PM on June 25


This person sounds insecure. They want your validation for their thoughts. I wouldn't give it but shrug it away.
posted by tiny frying pan at 7:09 AM on June 26


Is this an inverted version of the Chewbacca defense?
posted by nikaspark at 5:01 PM on June 26


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