Friday, November 11, 2016

The Delicate Art of Confronting Offensive Speech

Over at the Best Practices for Legal Education blog Oct. 19, 2016), one counterintuitive suggestion is creating empathy with the speaker—convey understanding and sympathy with the speaker and invite reciprocal empathy:

While it may be tempting to directly characterize others’ statements – such as saying, “That’s sexist! [racist, a lie, etc.]” – that approach risks stimulating escalation and defensiveness.  It may stop the immediate behavior but it may also lead to counterproductive arguments, cause resentment, and actually reinforce problematic attitudes.

Lawyers not only have to deal with their own personal reactions but also have to manage their professional responsibilities to be respectful.  This may be especially difficult when they encounter problematic attitudes from their own clients.  Lawyers often worry that clients will doubt that the lawyers will fight hard enough, so it can be particularly difficult for lawyers to challenge their clients.

While it may seem counter-intuitive to demonstrate empathy with people who express ideas that feel offensive, it may be an effective tactic.  And it may open people to be more empathetic with others.  This approach may also be helpful strategically by getting people to consider their situation more realistically, recognizing the other person’s perspective as well as that of potential third party decision-makers.

You can read more here.


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