This post will begin to outline some strategies for addressing and/or mitigating attempts to derail a conversation. If you haven’t had a chance to read our previous blog post on what derailment is and what it looks like, you can check it out here.
1. Set a Goal for the Conversation
One helpful tool for any conversation is to set a goal. Determining where you’d like a discussion to go is a great way to ensure it stays on track. It may be useful to ask yourself what you hope to accomplish in responding to an inappropriate picture someone shared on Facebook or in addressing a racist comment made by a relative. Do you hope to plant a seed for future reflection or introspection? Are you hoping a conversation might help to facilitate a different way of thinking about things? Is there a particular outcome or action you hope to achieve? Setting a goal may not only help others to stay focused on the topic at hand, but also help to ensure your own contributions are in line with what you hope to accomplish.
2. Bring Attention to the Derailing
We are all guilty of getting carried away, especially when it comes to matters we feel strongly about. Conversations about oppression and social justice are often intersectional, which makes it easy for topics to bleed into one another. Calling out the derailment of a conversation may help someone recognize what they’re doing, especially if it was unintentional. People with privilege often do this by saying things such as, “But I also experience discrimination as a poor white person,” or “People of color do bad things, too.” Bringing attention to their derailment could sound like, “I hear what you’re saying, but I think this is distracting us from the original point,” or “I feel as if this is derailing the direction of our conversation away from the concerns I’m trying to address.” In addition to pointing out that a discussion may be moving away from its intended direction, one could say, “I’d be happy to address the point you’ve brought up after we finish discussing the concern I’ve raised,” or “Can we revisit this topic after we finish talking about my initial concern?” Reiterating what your initial concern or topic was can also help to remind someone of what the discussion was intended to be about.
3. End the Conversation with a Reflective Thought
Part of practicing self-care means being aware of what your brain and body are telling you. If you start to feel that a conversation is overwhelming, exhausting, or unmanageable, it is ok to end it! If you feel that you are able to, you can leave the conversation with something you’d like that person to think more deeply about. This can sound like, “I don’t think I can continue this conversation right now, but I’d like for you to think about _____ more deeply,” or “I’m not sure this conversation will be productive if we continue to have it, but before I go I’d like to leave you with this thought; ____.”
4. Take a Moment of Silence
A great way to practice self-care in the midst of a conversation is to ask for a moment of silence. Moments of silence can be beneficial for all parties in that it can help individuals to be more present and potentially shift the energy of a conversation. It gives everyone involved an opportunity to sit with what they’ve heard so far, reflect on what they’d like to say as the conversation continues, and gather their thoughts/feelings prior to responding, which could limit reactivity.
This post is a guest blog by Sexual Assault Counselor/Advocate Chris Ware. This is the second in a series of blog discussions on the topic of derailing and refocusing conversations.