Empathy – the ability to put ourselves in someone else’s shoes – is a learned trait.
When we end up in a situation where we disagree with someone and emotions start to get charged our Old Brain switches to the primitive flight or fight mode – neither of which state has room for new-fangled (as far as the Old Brain is concerned) emotions like empathy.
So what can you do when you’re in an off-the-cuff conversation at the grocery store with a consumer who insists a ‘fact’ is true, when you know undoubtedly, scientifically, first-hand that it is not and emotions are starting to get the better of the both of you?
You might try a strategy developed by social psychologist Anatol Rapoport in which you state the other person’s position so accurately and comprehensively that they tilt their head, scratch their chin and say, “Well, I wish I’d thought of putting it that way!”
He was convinced that the only way to effectively engage someone with different beliefs was to re-express their beliefs, then list points of agreement and anything you learned from them, before expressing your position.
The intent, of course, is to help each other clarify the other persons’ position. From there, you can start the conversation off on the right foot, helping you come to a respectful consensus. Or, at the very least, you can agree to disagree and move on down the dairy aisle.