Responding to Attempts to Derail a Conversation Part 3: Additional Strategies for Responding to Derailment

Responding to Attempts to Derail a Conversation Part 2: Strategies for Responding to Derailment
September 21, 2020
It Gets Better - words over coffee cup on table
It Gets Better
November 12, 2020

Responding to Attempts to Derail a Conversation Part 3: Additional Strategies for Responding to Derailment

Last week we shared a few strategies for addressing attempts to derail a conversation. In our final blog post on responding to derailment, we will explore additional tactics you could use when trying to “re-rail” a discussion.

5. Ask Questions Rather Than Make Statements 

Asking relevant questions instead of making statements can help to re-rail a conversation by allowing the derailer to feel as if they are getting to share as much as they want while providing you with an opportunity to direct and/or guide the conversation. Using this strategy can help to encourage someone to explore their own perspectives and experiences more critically.

6. Differentiating Tone of Voice from Content of Conversation

As previously mentioned, difficult conversations can often result in passionate responses. A common form of derailment is to dismiss or discredit what someone is trying to say by commenting on how they are saying it. A helpful strategy to counteract this attempt to derail a discussion is to acknowledge that the concern is not about the points the speaker is making, but rather the way in which they are being made. One way to address this is to say, “I recognize that I have strong emotions about this topic which may be impacting my ability to effectively communicate my point. I will try to be more mindful of that as we continue to converse. However, I would appreciate if we could discuss the issue of racism rather than the way in which I am talking about it.”

7. Shifting the Language 

Oftentimes, people will bring up their own good intentions or societal contributions in conversations about oppression and social justice. This is sometimes the result of feeling personally attacked. Refocusing the conversation by differentiating between individual bias and structural oppression can sometimes help mitigate that feeling, making someone more open to engaging in the conversation.

8. Keep an Open Mind

It is important to remember that we are all in different places when it comes to education and understanding of systemic racism and structural/institutional oppression. In the recent months, the murders of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and many other people of color have sparked nationwide coverage and attention. As a result, some people are just now joining the conversation and at the very beginning stages of learning about the challenges people of color face. Keeping an open mind can be difficult but helps us to meet people where they are at. It is not uncommon for someone to become defensive or attempt to derail a conversation when they feel they are being lectured, spoken down to, or disrespected. “I appreciate you being willing to have this conversation with me,” or “Thank you for your honest contributions and active participation in this conversation,” are two ways to show respect and/or validation for someone without having to agree with what they are saying. Statements like these can create a feeling of mutual respect, which can increase an individual’s willingness to continue the conversation. It can also help someone to feel like they are being heard, which can decrease defensiveness and make them more likely to hear you and the perspectives and/or points you are sharing.


This post is a guest blog by Sexual Assault Counselor/Advocate Chris Ware. This is the third and final in a series of blog discussions on the topic of derailing and refocusing conversations. 

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