“What are we going to be mad about today?”

That’s the question I ask myself every morning when I check the news, and my various social media feeds. 

More and more it seems like everyone is angry all the time. 

People are angry about politics. 

People are angry about women’s rights.

People are angry about jobs.

And immigration.

And everything.

People are increasingly angrier and they don’t even seem to know why.

You probably have never heard of the book “The Unpersaudables: Adventures with The Enemies of Science” by Will Storr, but I think about this book often these days. 

One of the main tenets of the book is that certain people are unpersuadable and that any attempt to persuade them with facts or logic will only make them dig in further to their current positions. 

This is further supported by two cognitive biases:

  1. Confirmation Bias. This cognitive bias shows that we tend to search for, favor and remember evidence that supports our pre-existing beliefs. This is especially true when information is ambiguous and is stronger when attached to emotionally charged topics such as politics. 
  2. The Backfire Effect. While most people embrace debate as a way to substantively change another person’s mind, the results actually show the opposite. The more people argue the more they tend to strengthen their own beliefs. The most famous experiment which shows the backfire effect took place in 2006 at Georgia State where researchers had subjects read a fake article on whether or not the USA found Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMDs) in Iraq then read a correction article. When those who believed falsely that WMDs had been discovered read the correction not only did they not change their minds, they actually doubled down and reported being even more certain that the original article was correct. Or in other words, presenting facts backfired.   

So, I think we call all agree that arguing on Facebook isn’t going to change anyone’s mind and just makes people even more upset.

So what can you do instead? 

Here are 3 suggestions:

  1. Assume That Everyone Is Trying Their Best. One of the biggest things that changed my mind about having empathy for everyone. We often assume that people do things to “get us”. I know I used to. I used to think that everything from the teller taking too long to the waiter forgetting my name was some sort of slight against me. It wasn’t until one day that I sat down with an older divorced friend who said that the one thing he was trying to impress upon his kids during their divorce was that he was just trying to do his best. As is everyone. People tend to get caught up in things that might be offensive like using certain words or expressing different viewpoints but at the end of the day, everyone is trying to do their best. If you remember that it becomes much easier to give people including yourself a break. 
  2. Assume Rapport. I used to work as a dating coach and one of the biggest things that got in the way for both men and women was assuming that they weren’t going to get along on a first date. So many people go into EVERY social interaction expecting a fight or a nasty comment or a million other “worst case scenarios” that never actually happen. Instead of assuming that you are going to disagree with someone or struggle to get along, assume that the two of you are already friends. Assuming rapport has long been taught as a way to make interactions less awkward but it also forces you to be more empathetic as well. 
  3. Say “That’s Interesting.” I learned this from Action International Coach Brad Sugars. When you are confronted with something that you feel the urge to argue with, instead of arguing say “That’s interesting.” This has a twofold effect, first, it ends any potentially dangerous or contentious topics because it’s hard to continue a conversation after “That’s interesting.” The second is that it forces you to actually think differently. Instead of immediately recoiling when someone expresses a different viewpoint actually ask yourself what makes that interesting to that person. The answers you get will be revealing! 

Arguing doesn’t work, it’s clear that empathy is the only way for us to move forward as a society. Use these 3 tips to show more empathy and make the world a little less angry of a place.