8 Tips for dealing with conspiracy believers

If relatives or friends are attached to conspiracy narratives, this can not only lead to incomprehension and perplexity, but also harbors a high potential for conflict. This is often accompanied by a high level of psychological and emotional stress. Attempts to refute the conspiratorial narratives on the basis of facts usually come to nothing or lead to a hardening of the fronts. Then a basis for constructive discussion is increasingly lost. Nevertheless, many people feel the need to dissuade supporters of conspiracies from their private environment or to find an appropriate personal way of dealing with them. But what is the best way to talk to family members and friends who believe in conspiracy myths? The following advice is intended to help those affected.

Determine
goals

Before you engage in a conversation with the conspiracy believer, ask yourself these questions: What do you hope to get out of the conversation yourself? What are your own needs?

Set boundaries

Be aware of your own limits and only go as far as you feel you can. If you do not feel able to cope with the situation, it is advisable to avoid a confrontation and to seek help. Even a (possibly temporary) break-off of contact does not usually lead to a solution to the problem, but should be considered as a last resort if there are uncertainties, fears or feelings of threat.

Choose a
suitable conversation setting

Arguing in the heat of the moment is not very effective and usually helps to raise emotional walls. Instead, choose carefully when, where and for how long you want to take time for a conversation and agree on this with your counterpart.

Have a personal
conversation at eye level

Be empathetic, open and understanding instead of taking a confrontational position from the start. If you are perceived as a possible opponent of your own convictions, this makes every conversation more difficult. However, if your counterpart has the impression that you are trying to understand them and are willing to take a step towards them, they will be much more willing to engage with you.

Be careful with
facts

Countering conspiracy narratives with conclusive and fact-based counter-evidence may seem obvious at first, but it often has a rather escalating effect and leads to further distancing. This is because, for the most part, what matters to conspiracy believers is not so much the content of the individual narrative, but the function it serves for them. But even if facts rarely get you far, it can make sense to get knowledgeable before seeking out conversation. Those who understand the mechanisms of conspiracy narratives ultimately also protect themselves from them.

Gain insights,
make offers

Try to determine what function the conspiracy narrative serves for your counterpart and what problem it provides an answer to. Often the conspiracy belief is related to a specific crisis experience. Inquire about what the needs are, take them seriously, and offer to help.

Asking rather than telling

Dismissing the opinions or thoughts of others as fantasy or pure nonsense will hardly get you anywhere. Also avoid stigmatizing generalizations, as these could be perceived as an attack and cause defensive reactions. Open-ended questions usually have a greater potential to provoke thought and promote reflection on your own convictions.

Look for
support

In many cases it can be right and important to seek help, especially if a conspiracy-believing person poses a danger to yourself or others. This is also advisable if all attempts at conversation fail and the situation becomes increasingly unbearable. There are specific counseling centers for these cases in some german federal states. We will gladly refer you in these cases.

Further tips in
CALLSPIRACY

You can find more tips for dealing with conspiracy narratives in the videos of the call-in program CALLSPIRACY with Eva Schulz, Tobias Meilicke and various guests.

Episode 1 is about communicating with conspiracy believers and episode 2 about when it might be better to break off contact (for now). Episode 3 explains what makes conspiracy narratives attractive. In episode 4, Eva Schulz and Tobias Meilicke discuss with rapper Hendrik Bolz what distinguishes criticism from conspiracy narratives.

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