Strategies for discussions with populists – taking a stance


Even if you will never agree with a populist sloganeers’ opinion, you should take your interlocutors seriously as human beings, remain polite, and do not devalue others because they have different political views. However, when it comes to the substance of the matter, try to be consistent, advocating your positions with good arguments. To achieve this, in your workplace, in school, during family celebrations and elsewhere, try to follow the following guidelines.

Let’s start with the way you communicate. Here are seven tips that read easily but are often difficult to implement in heated discussions. This makes it all the more important to internalise them.

  1. Ask logical questions: “How do you know that?”, “Can you explain to me how x and y fit together?” Do you have a concrete example?” Inquiries often entangle sloganeers in contradictions or point out absurdities of the argumentation. A perfect way to dismantle the argumentation. By asking this sort of question they (and by-standers) might realize how weak the arguments are.
  2. You may also agree: Now the person you are talking to is stating a thesis that you think may have “some truth to it”? Then you can calmly agree in parts, show understanding. But don’t slacken your efforts to put sweeping statements into perspective, to point out complexities and to suggest alternative ways of thinking.
  3. Set boundaries and take action: When encountering harmful rhetoric or offensive statements, it is crucial to establish clear boundaries and express disapproval. Clearly and firmly state that certain statements are not acceptable and go against principles of respect and inclusivity.
  4. But there are facts that work better than others: Facts that provoke thoughtfulness or trigger irritation. These are best conveyed in the form of personal stories, anecdotes, and personal experiences.
  5. Do not be distracted! The slogan-wielding person is hammering you with one piece of commonplace wisdom after the next? Then ask him to stick to his first thesis in order to discuss it. Better to defuse one slogan than to get bogged down in many different strands of argument.
  6. Create alliances: If someone at the table makes an effective argument, or there are some common points – simply pick those up again in your next contribution to the conversation, name the common ground.
  7. Ignore the leader: Someone at the table is talking all the time. Of course, this tempts responding to. But it’s not tactically wise: the undecided by-standers, listening silently at the table, are much more interesting! They are more likely to think about your arguments. And if you ask them specifically about their opinion or their experience, they may turn out to be allies.

Let´s practice!

1) Say out loud the following phrases, you can record it and see if you find yourself convincing enough.

2) In a next step, practice in front of a mirror. Repeat this exercise until you are satisfied and find yourself convincing.

Images by garetsvisual, DCStudio at Freepik

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