Being believed, Believing others
December 4, 2007 8:46 AM   Subscribe

Have you ever successfully explained yourself to someone who was angry at you, didn't trust you, and never particularly trusted you? Have you ever been persuaded by someone who you didn't particularly like or trust when you were angry at them?

I don't want to get into the particulars, but instead get to some core truths here if we can.

Is it possible for someone who doesn't trust you to believe you, and maybe even understand you? Can your explanation ever be good enough? Is it better to leave the person with a misunderstanding, or attempt to find a way to get through to him or her?

Maybe I should ask this another way: Is it possible to believe and understand someone who you've never particularly liked or trusted? Can his or her explanation ever be good enough, or will your history make any explanation fodder for an argument?

Does the complexity of the explanation make a difference either way here? Does evidence tending to prove the explanation help, or does it look like pandering? (Assume here that the evidence is not dispositive proof, because positive proof is simply not possible, e.g. when explaining your feelings, rather than where you were at 2 p.m. on Saturday.)

If you are willing to share, can you tell me stories about when this did and did not work for you, either as explainer or as mistruster?
posted by Capri to Human Relations (19 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
I am now good friends with someone who I originally thought was an abusive, manipulative asshole. This took time, many deep conversations about a wide variety of topics where I learned about the type of person he was, and, most importantly, finding out he did not actually engage in the behaviors that (to me) proved he was an abusive, manipulative asshole.

It did not happen overnight and was more due to him constantly proving my initial assessment of him wrong in his day-to-day behavior than him arguing with me over it (as I never actually brought that assessment up with him).
posted by schroedinger at 8:53 AM on December 4, 2007

Best answer: I recently ended a relationship because of trust issues. Part of the problem was me being insecure because I had been cheated on before...which led me to go behind his back to try to figure out if I could trust him. This was my problem.

I don't want to blame him too much, but he didn't help. He wasn't willing to talk about it openly (he was very terse about it) or quell my fears by showing me that his conversations with his ex were innocent. I think the complexity of the explanation and evidence would have helped. It would have helped if he had went on a limb and told me how he felt and that he was trying to get over his old relationship. I wouldn't have needed evidence if he had expressed his feelings openly.

Admittedly, I was very angry and overreacted because of my own issues, but it made me realize that I can only really trust someone who can confide in me.
posted by idle at 8:58 AM on December 4, 2007

well, this is awfully vague, but i find sticking to verifiable facts whenever possible is the way to go in situations where your credibility is questionable.

if someone doesn't like you, opening up and showing some vulnerability helps, although master manipulators also do this well.

i think we need more information to answer this more fully.
posted by thinkingwoman at 9:10 AM on December 4, 2007

Check your MefiMail. I don't want to bog everything down with my very personal problems, but this exact question has been on my mind every day for the last week.
posted by mitzyjalapeno at 9:11 AM on December 4, 2007

Best answer: I have experienced this myself, and have developed lasting friendships with people that I had previously found repugnant. I think that what really, critically matters in this kind of situation is your ability to be a mature person. Part of that, to me, implies that a mature person should be able to make their own value judgments based on a personal assessment of the situation. Very frequently, you will find that the kind of disagreements you are describing are based on hearsay- you heard so and so about this person from such and such and, over the course of time, you develop certain ideas about them based on what others tell you, with little personal interaction with the situation. And that's perfectly understandable, given the nature of our social interactions, but what is truly important is that each party in such a situation can listen to each other and form their own opinion based not on preconceived notions but on their own experiences with that person.

If you're on the receiving end of this, the only thing that you can do to initiate such a remediation is to say, "Listen, I understand that we have not been on the best of terms but I think that you and I need to have a serious discussion about this issue, one-on-one, without any extraneous bullshit coming into play. Our opinions of one another shouldn't be formed by the opinions of others, so let's figure out where we really stand and take it from there." Sometimes you may have been put in this situation by an overreaction or conflagration, in which case you have to understand why that happened and, most importantly, empathize with their reaction as well. As long as both parties are willing to be understanding and admit fault, you can certainly move past these kinds of issues.

What is really, critically important to this is that both parties are mature and willing to approach the situation with an open mind. If the other party isn't willing to do that, then its not worth your time getting upset about it, because why would you care about the opinions of such a person? It can be hard to let go when you feel you've been slighted, but you can't allow yourself to be dragged down because somebody else is being childish. Be calm and patient, and above all, listen.
posted by baphomet at 9:12 AM on December 4, 2007 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Unfortunately it really depends on the situation. You might want to post a more specific version of this anonymously, or at least give us some idea as to what is your relationship with the person, or what exactly you are trying to explain.

One thing to keep in mind is that, depending on the situation, the person may have some reason to refuse to believe you other than normal logic. For example, if your boss is trying to use you as a scapegoat for some problem that isn't actually your fault, he will be very hard to "convince".

The best thing you can do is put yourself in their shoes and ask yourself if you would believe your own story. If you think they have a certain problem with part of what you are trying to convince them, focus on that part and try to work through it with them. If they don't believe you for emotional reasons, or because they don't want to believe you, there's not really much you can do.

Personally, I tend to treat anything improvable from someone I don't trust with skepticism, no matter what they say. I also sometimes refuse to trust someone based on past experiences with them (for example, if someone borrowed $200 from me and never paid it back, I would not lend them any more money, even if they tried to convince me that they would definitely pay me back).

When I'm trying to convince someone who doesn't trust me, I just lay out my case and ask them to take it or leave it. In my experience it doesn't do much good to press the issue when someone knows all of the facts and comes to a different conclusion. After that, I just accept that they don't believe me and try to go on from there.
posted by burnmp3s at 9:13 AM on December 4, 2007 [1 favorite]

I and this guy I know share a deep antipathy for each other. I would go outside to check if he said it was sunny.

This kind of simmered for a while, but when it finally came out in the open, he said things about me that I could not deny. A lack of sympathy can loosen your tongue on subjects that politeness would normally stop you talking about.

I didn't really consider what he said to have any value straight away, though. It's only when I wondered why it made me so angry that I realised he was quite correct. It's difficult to think about such things dispassionately, yes.

His 'explanation' was as complex as you would expect from a drunk.

Perhaps the fact that our 'relationship' is so simple is what prevented a few angry words from turning into a feud. Neither of us can stand to talk to the other, let alone argue.
posted by topynate at 9:13 AM on December 4, 2007

Best answer: It really depends on the relative maturity--and mental health--of the people involved.

I wasted a lot of years trying to talk sense to crazy.
posted by sock it to me monkey at 9:22 AM on December 4, 2007 [3 favorites]

I have come to respect and value people whom I originally disliked or found abrasive and mean, but this change has seldom been spurred on by anything they said. Instead, I believe most relationships evolve and change primarily through shared experiences. In my case, I first learned to respect my colleagues' skills and perspective by seeing them encounter tough situations that tested them, and enduring challenges together further cemented the bond.

In short: actions > words
posted by itstheclamsname at 9:30 AM on December 4, 2007 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: From the OP: These answers are all incredibly helpful. Thanks for the variety of interpretations of the question. It's purposefully vague so that I can get this variety, and it's incredibly helpful.
posted by Capri at 9:32 AM on December 4, 2007

Best answer: I think there are two key hurdles to overcome:

1) Getting the person to listen;

2) Patience, because the person may reject the information at first, then consider it later when you (who are trying to convince them) are not present.

When someone we don't like talks to us, it tends to shut down our listening; we instead focus on our feelings of dislike. It's unavoidable, and I wish I could get around it more myself. Even getting a letter, or talking with an intermediary who represents the mistrusted person, can make us too emotional.

But some people will be able to reflect on the actual information content later.

One more thought: a lot of times, dislike (or even hate) comes from fear. If the "convincer" can figure out the specific things the listener fears, and somehow address and allay those fears, I think it can help a lot.
posted by amtho at 9:44 AM on December 4, 2007 [1 favorite]

Seconding actions are greater than words.

Actions + Time x Patience = Possibility.

and 'though I am not citing specific examples, that's what I am working from.
posted by nnk at 9:47 AM on December 4, 2007

When you get this "Oh, No! This guy is shitting me" look from people it's time to try to explain your emotions/feelings on the subject. If you have a problem with that the other person is probably right and it's time for you to shut up or apologize.

If people don't believe you after you've explained how you feel you can tell them to fuck off or humiliate them and they are usually out of hair for good then.
posted by uandt at 9:53 AM on December 4, 2007

Best answer: I could probably give a better answer if your question was specific to a situation. That said, I find it much better for my mental health if generally I don't throw myself into explaining myself to someone who feels they've already got me figured out. That's both in recognition of the fact that you can "doth protest too much" and worsen your case, and because I recognize that it's more an attempt to find my own peace about the situation at hand, and no one is going to be able to respond to me in a way that will give me that peace -- I have to get there on my own. I feel a lot more balanced about my relationships with people since I sorted this out in recent years.
posted by loiseau at 10:25 AM on December 4, 2007

People are flawed. Understanding that will allow you to get the best out of your relationships while minimizing the risks involved.
posted by Ironmouth at 11:12 AM on December 4, 2007

Have you ever successfully explained yourself to someone who was angry at you, didn't trust you, and never particularly trusted you? Have you ever been persuaded by someone who you didn't particularly like or trust when you were angry at them?

To add more, I think it best to treat this as an issue of fundamental communcation, not of trusting or people's innate characteristics.

The best way to communicate with such a person is first, to listen. Pay close attention to what it is they are thinking and then find the grain of truth in what they have said. For example: "I know you said that when I didn't feel comfortable telling you about that, you thought you could not trust me, and I can understand that given the fact that X, Y and Z have happened" etc.

Structure the communication by learning about what it is they want exactly, searching to find out where what they have said is true, and then answering their concerns.

A real life example: I once lived in a group house with two particularly nasty Republicans in Washington, D.C. and a few other people. Here, politics is a big part of life. We didn't get along (We are friends now, however).

Anyway, I did something wrong by opening my mouth to the wrong person at the wrong time and saying something that although I thought would be helpful, was really just stupid. The Republicans called a house meeting and went at me about that incident and some other, more imagined problems. I went around the room and asked people what things I had done wrong and how I could make them better. I calmly listened to what they said, addressed each and everyone of their concerns, and the meeting broke up. They were mollified, I and I never had a conflict with them again and later became friends with them.

After the meeting, one of my friends in the house came up to me and told be that the Republicans had planned ahead of time to get me out of the house and they were sure they were going to be able to do it. He asked me how I just sat there, took it, held my own while answering their concerns. He said he never could have done that.

The truth is, I learned the technique from a cognitive therapy book, the Feeling Good Handbook. That was the first time I used it, and just as the book told me, it worked like a charm.

Several years later, I was talking with one of them and he told me he thought I was a total dick when he met me but now he realized that I was really a great person.
posted by Ironmouth at 11:25 AM on December 4, 2007 [2 favorites]

Let the wookie win.

If there is a disagreement that you want to move past, just move past it. Don't bring it up again, just let the other person hold their own view about it, at least up to the point that the other person actually wants to know what you feel about the situation.
posted by Doohickie at 11:46 AM on December 4, 2007


This is like a 3 dimensional sliding scale with an individual case by case basis.

What kind of person are they?
What kind of person are you?

**The details that factor into this?

Is it believable?
And at what cost?

*Are you genuine or able to realistically create the illusion of it?

Can you pull it off on the day?
Sometimes just pure luck will swing things in your favor, you'll just feel it happen. Could be what you said but mostly it's your expression/vibe that determines the outcome.
posted by mu~ha~ha~ha~har at 11:45 PM on December 4, 2007

I have convinced people that were angry and untrusting. It requires they have enough intellect to follow a logical argument. Some people can't or won't do that. The incidents I recall involved explaining their self-interest and mine, in a way they could see why they were wrong.

I am a talker. I am damn good, especially when pressured. I've saved my ass many times by giving the good rap. Even have done so dealing with law enforcement people, while internally sweating bullets!
posted by Goofyy at 4:35 AM on December 5, 2007

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