ARR: Acknowledge, Respond, Redirect
We've all been there: you're sitting with your family, enjoying a nice meal, and then someone says something about "fake news" or "liberal snowflakes" that sets off the rest of the group. Pretty soon, no one is listening to anyone else because everyone is just trying to scream their own opinions and facts.
ARR is the way to avoid emotional deadlock. Read on to learn how to do it!
Step 1. Acknowledge
Acknowledge your audience’s concerns and fears.
- What makes a good acknowledgement? An acknowledgement that:
- Demonstrates you understand the underlying concern of the person you’re talking to. In other words, it demonstrates an understanding of that person’s self-interest. When someone says something about immigration reform, the underlying concerns are often about safety and trust. You can get into a technical disagreement about how our immigration system needs improvement, or you can have a deeper conversation about what actually fosters safety and trust.
- Is personal. Try to put in a short personal anecdote, if you have one, though not an extended personal story.
- Avoids tripwires. Tripwires are phrases that can derail the conversation by making the other person shut down. You want to think about where the person is coming from on this. For example, if they come from the right, you want to be careful of saying “that’s not politically correct” or “you’re being racist/misogynist/homophobic.” While it may be true, saying these things are most likely to make the other person disengage and stop the conversation in its tracks.
Step 2. Respond
Respond to the question.
- What makes a good response?
- Taking the question seriously. Showing that you’ve thought about it, you’re open to other views, but that you have your opinion.
- Putting in some analysis of the issue being asked about. If you don’t know anything about the issue or not enough that you’d feel comfortable doing this, say you don’t know but will get back to them after doing some research.
- Use personal experience to answer this question as well. It’s not just statistics and facts; you can lean on personal experience in this place as well.
Step 3. Redirect
Redirect to your own key point: why do you feel the way you do, and why is it important to act accordingly?
- What makes a good redirect?
- Moves the conversation forward - don’t get stuck debating one point back and forth.
- Responds to interest of the person and includes an invitation about engaging them in your work/your opinion moving forward.
- Inserts a new way of thinking about the issue at hand. You can shift this person’s thinking by asking a question that re-frames a thinking about it (“For me, the question is...” or “I think the question we need to be asking ourselves is instead/actually...”). This is what agitation is about — getting the person to think about their own beliefs in new ways. A redirect is about agitation.
A couple of things to note:
- Assume goodwill. Answer as though they are genuinely curious even if they’re just being contrarian or hostile.
- The strongest responses to any question will be based in your own personal connection to the issue. And there’s opportunity to insert your own experiences into all components of a response. Have some personal stories or experiences in mind when entering into a difficult conversation -- stories that demonstrate your concern over the issue, or that you also have concerns coming from a similar place. It is not the facts that will ultimately change people. Your story and the fact that you take the question seriously is what will move folks in the end. This is also a helpful way of addressing a question if you have some facts on an issue but not all the facts.
- Lean into tension.
Discomfort is kind of like obscenity -- you know it when you feel it. Let it guide you.
Get to know this feeling; it will be with you at every moment of challenge and importance. Our discomfort signals a fork in the road; will we act on our values or not?
But it’s not just about our values. It’s also about the values of others, and getting them to act differently. Getting someone else to realize there’s a gap between their core values and their actions or views (which is uncomfortable!) - that’s called agitation.