The day after the United States 2016 election, I attended a public political discussion club in the United States. I personally am very left-leaning, but this club was a conservative club; in fact, the name of the club was "[location name] conservatives". I'm not a regular attendee of the club, but I knew one or two people, and it's relatively normal for people to not attend regularly.

During the discussion, the conversation of Hillary Clinton's emails came up. If you weren't following US politics, there was a huge controversy during the election about Hillary Clinton's use of a private email server. Several days before the election, the director of the FBI released a letter saying that they had discovered new evidence pertaining to the controversy, only to, after reviewing the evidence, make no changes to their earlier determination regarding Clinton's wrongdoing. Donald Trump had this to say about Comey's actions:

You can't review 650,000 new emails in eight days. You can't do it, folks," Trump said, adding, "Hillary Clinton is guilty. She knows it, the FBI knows it, the people know it, and now it's up to the American people to deliver justice at the ballot box on November 8.

At the political discussion group, someone repeated Trump's claim: that it was impossible to review 650,000 emails in eight days. I spend a lot of time following politics, so I knew that you actually could review 650,000 emails in eight days: you use software! Here's a good explanation of the process from Wired; a Google search for "how did comey review 650,000 emails" turns up dozens of articles from reputable sources saying the same thing. I felt that I was on pretty solid ground with the issue.

So I spoke up. I don't remember exactly what I said, but I think it was something along the lines of "Oh, they have software that can do that. It's all automated." I remember getting a blank stare in response, and the conversation moved on. But it was a while ago, so my memory might be a little bit shaky here.

I have to admit that I did feel frustrated and upset. There's a really good argument that the actions of the FBI cost Clinton the election. I personally felt that the email "scandal" wasn't a scandal at all. And I am very opposed to Donald Trump, who had just been elected. All of this combined made me feel very frustrated that the candidate who I supported during the general election was being rejected for reasons that, I felt, were related to misinformation and, to borrow a phrase from Trump, fake news, rather than her ability or qualifications or vision for the country. I knew I was upset and decided not to press the issue.

But looking back on the event, it seems that I didn't get through with my explanation about the emails. The other person didn't seem to find it convincing and moved on. I really didn't like the fact that they moved on; I felt like I was being ignored. While I don't necessarily expect people to agree with me on everything, I appreciate it when I'm heard out. And I really don't like it when people disagree with me, not about issues, but about basic facts about events.

Is there a way that I could have worded my correction to make it more persuasive, or at least so that it would have gotten a response other than a blank stare? How should I voice a correction in a group discussion such that others are able to consider it?

  • 1
    In my mind, this is a pretty good example of a good question about interpersonal skills that happens to be related to politics. It's detailed and it's specific. If you disagree I would love to hear your reasoning.
    – user288
    Commented Sep 18, 2017 at 5:11
  • 1
    I'm actually going to say that while the medium here is politics, the question itself is very firmly about interpersonal relations Commented Sep 18, 2017 at 5:16
  • 5
    Actually, there's a huge amount of research on this (correcting political misconceptions) and I think this is an excellent question that deserves a well-researched scientific-based answer. I look forward to seeing sourced responses for once on this site!
    – Catija
    Commented Sep 18, 2017 at 5:28
  • 3
    I think that any downvotes are mainly reflexive dislike of any question at all related to politics, and potentially even dislike of the particular political opinions in the question. But that said, I could think of one more legitimate reason that someone might vote down the question - they might interpret it as simply seeking to figure out the best way to convince or argue with others, not the best way of handling that situation (which someone might believe would be to not argue at all, say).
    – Obie 2.0
    Commented Sep 18, 2017 at 7:15
  • @Obie2.0 I'd say the reason for the people disliking the question is actually the same as the reason the "... Conservatives" disliked the OP's comment within the question: emotionally-oriented decision making at the behest of human nature, even while the facts dictate otherwise Commented Sep 18, 2017 at 7:21

5 Answers 5


This is a classic case of words falling on deaf ears. The fact is, we as people like to think we're rational beings, but we're actually driven far more by emotion than we tend to grasp. What you did — and for the purpose of staying on topic here I'm going to completely ignore the politics and just focus on the actions — was to present a fact that contradicted the emotional grounding of the room.

Consider why people came to the political discussion club in the first place. Do you think that any of the attendees at the "[Insert Place Here] Conservatives" event actually wanted to have their political views reversed by another attendee? Of course not. More likely, they came for two main reasons: socialization and validation.

People are social animals. We like spending time with other people, and find it preferable to spend time with those who share our views. Why do you think cliques form in high schools? The partiers and the theater kids and the video gamers and the lacrosse team? Shared interests. A political discussion club is a great way to find people with similar interests to yourself.

Validation is the more interesting one. Stemming similarly from this social orientation is a desire to fit in, and to be welcomed in with open arms. It's hard to think of a better occasion for that than a political discussion club. Every person who agrees with your views strengthens the validity of those views, and in that way strengthens the validity of your identity. It's a mutual admiration society.

Understand that while even the attendees themselves may have thought they wanted some interesting debate about politics, in absolutely none of their fantasies would they be proven wrong. The debate would be, for most, just a means to socialization and validation. With that in mind, someone with conflicting views showing up at the Me Too club and throwing everyone under the bus — and understand that intentionally or not by calling into question the very basis on which their shared interests are established, you could have thrown quite the wrench into the club — you threatened everything all those people being there stood for. You betrayed the subconscious desires of everyone in the room, and in that situation most people find it easier to just ignore the facts and get angry.


Did I do anything wrong in this situation?

Yes: you defended Crooked Hillary!

Ha-ha, just kidding. Well... Mostly.

Let's back up a bit and try to figure out what your actual goal was, and then maybe we can examine where you feel like you fell short of that goal...

The day after the United States 2016 election, I attended a public political discussion club in the United States. I personally am very left-leaning, but this club was a conservative club; in fact, the name of the club was "[location name] conservatives".

You seem to be kinda understating the potential for clashing opinions here, and I feel like that may be a key piece of the puzzle. Let's drop the politics angle for a sec and re-word that introduction with a comparable context:

The day after the United States Super Bowl LI, I attended a public football party at a club in the United States. I personally am a huge Falcons fan, but this club was a Patriots club; in fact, the name of the club was "[location name] Patriots Fans".

Thus stripped of the connotations of politics, can you begin to see where you may have had a poor understanding of how your views would be received before you ever opened your mouth? There are plenty of Patriots fans who have negative opinions about Tom Brady, but if you're talking to a group of fans the day after a huge, hard-won victory expecting them to focus on the flaws of their own team and listen to your defense of Matt Ryan is pretty naive. Getting a blank stare is probably a good outcome in that scenario...

Ok, let's drop the analogy. What was your goal in the actual scenario you described?

Is there a way that I could have worded my correction to make it more persuasive, or at least so that it would have gotten a response other than a blank stare?

That's pretty open-ended. Presumably you could've jumped on a table and started yodeling, refusing to stop until you got thrown out - that'd definitely have been a less ambiguous response than the blank stare.

So let's focus on persuasive. Presumably this was not a formal debate, since if it was then you failed miserably by coming unprepared to respond quickly with a specific rebuttal.

In fact, you were extremely unprepared to debate the email issue even informally...

Let's skip the details of the specific controversy you were stepping into here; this isn't the site for lengthy debates of politics or the pitfalls and potential of mechanical classification and analysis. All that's germane is that the subject of "Hillary's Emails" consumed a massive amount of time and focus during the entire 2016 campaign, with details still coming out right up to election day and myriad points of contention, merely one of which was the analysis your opponent latched onto. And your best effort to cut that particular head off the hydra was... "something something Software"

Please understand; I don't intend to mock you. This certainly isn't a topic I'd be any better prepared to debate; I'm not a data scientist by trade and I'm guessing neither are you, and clearly neither of us have taken up the hobby of tracking the state of the FBI's suite of textual analysis tools. The best we have ready at hand here is an article in a pop-Tech publication that covers such tooling in brief and at a high-level, thus giving us some confidence that there was analysis, but leaving us ill-prepared to discuss the finer points such as efficacy or potential areas in which it might fail.

If you're feeling bad about that... Stop. Even if you had come armed with volumes of facts pertaining to the specific point of contention, it probably would not have helped!

These findings, if true, have worrying implications. Cognitive dissonance won't help people make rational decisions, but it also suggests that there's little point in arguing with someone who holds an opposing belief. Could this response be why, despite being repeatedly refuted in the media, the percentage of Americans who believe Sen. Obama to be a Muslim continues to grow? The research might also apply beyond the political to other attitudes—I'm thinking of the constant flame wars between fans of the PS3 and Xbox 360, or Mac and PC users.

-- Jonathan M. Gitlin, writing for Ars Technical in 2008

So, you should've just given up, right? After all, you were in the wrong place, ill-prepared, and it wouldn't have helped anyway...

...Well, no. That's only true if your sole solitary goal was to change someone else's mind. Since you're asking here on a site dedicated to interpersonal communication, I retain some hope that you asked this question because you actually want to get better at communicating, not mind control - that regardless of your ideology, you realize that you can't go into a conversation expecting the outcome to be everyone involved thinking exactly like you do... So with that in mind, let's go back to your original question...

Why none of this matters

Did I do anything wrong in this situation?

Yes: you spoke instead of listening. By your own admission, you're not a regular attendee at these meetings, and you only knew a few people in the room. Most of the people there would've had no reason to trust your word on anything, but in particular they would've had no reason to care about your opinion on some bit of minutia tossed out in the context of a larger discussion.

Your mistake had nothing at all to do with politics, persuasion, or facts... It was a classic social faux pas - the Well Actually:

Whoever pulls a "well, actually" almost always shifts the conversation to himself. And now we are no longer following along with your friend's joke, we get to learn how much more you know about the limitations of the Sun Protection Factor scale in sunblock products.

The election was over. Nobody in that room cared about the emails or the FBI's analysis of those emails, just as no one at my hypothetical Super Bowl party would've cared about hearing the technical details of rule-abiding ball inflation.

If you were looking for an opportunity to be persuasive, the first step would've been to get to know your audience: by listening to them, perhaps asking questions, developing an understanding of why one candidate's shoddy IT department was so important to them that they were still discussing it. And then, starting perhaps with someone you know, you could broach that topic.

Because let's be honest: you don't particularly care about the emails or the FBI investigation either, right? You were there, in that room, among a bunch of people you don't know, because you wanted to somehow break down the tribalistic barriers that had grown up between you and them, to see if it was possible to get past the wearying, poisonous, abrasive trivia that'd consumed the entire campaign and together as one focus on the thing that you all shared, that if pressed you all would surely acknowledge as paramount in importance...



OK, so while being "very left-leaning" you walked in a nest of conservatives, so you get points for bravery ;)

Note: I'm gonna use "leftie" and "rightie" because in my country "libéral" means "free-market capitalist" so it gets confusing versus "liberal," etc. I'm not using them as slurs, just abbreviations.

I really didn't like the fact that they moved on; I felt like I was being ignored.

Well, you did make a few mistakes.

  • You missed the frame

Many Trump supporters would view a Hillary supporter as, at best, mildly insane, and at worst a commie. This works both ways, of course, as the lefties are prompt to slap labels like "deplorable racist sexist nazi" on anyone who disagrees with them.

This is not conducive to rational communication. In fact, this whole event was going to be an uphill struggle right from the start. I guess you missed this, perhaps due to the fact the lefties are very vocal about their opinions on the righties, so everyone pretty much knows what they think, but the righties tend to be much quieter, so you might not have known, but I can assure you it's like that. Can you confirm?

I find it quite funny having to explain the Overton Window to a leftist. This window is the range of acceptable speech in a given environment. Anything outside of this window will shock people and earn you a blank stare (as you experienced). Too far out and you might start a fight.

So, I presume you didn't listen long enough to place these guys on the political spectrum (there are many such models, I find this one lacks a PC axis) and get a workable estimate of their Overton window. Without this, you couldn't foresee their reaction to what you'd say, nor choose the right words.

If something is smack in the middle of the window (ie, it's the consensus) then you can word it as a correction. Further away from the center, it should be worded as a suggestion. Even further, as a hypothesis.

It doesn't matter if it's true or not, btw. This is only about how others will react to it. If you think it's true and word it in a way that is badly received, you might very well persuade others that it's not true!

Which leads us to...

  • You put your foot in it

Come on, you just entered the dungeon and you went straight for the boss fight.

You could have picked a very minor point, something that they don't really care about, your choice of topic, although anything is a polarizing issue these days.

So, first thing is to get rid of the "hysterical liberal" label that you automatically acquired when stepping into this nest of conservatives. You do this by starting with little things, not too polarizing topics... have an adult conversation about it, and above all... lose the self-righteous, "i'm gonna correct you" attitude:

So I spoke up. I don't remember exactly what I said, but I think it was something along the lines of "Oh, they have software that can do that. It's all automated." I remember getting a blank stare in response

You really sound like James Damore being surprised that his memo got him fired. When I downloaded the memo and read it, I immediately thought "man, he's soooo fired." I wondered how someone who seems to be very smart could make such a blunder. I guess he never heard of the Overton window... An interesting experiment would be for you to read said memo (not the journalists' reports) and try to understand why he didn't.

If these were the words you used, again no surprises here.

You could have said "I'm not sure, but it's the damn FBI, don't they have software and tools to sort through this? It can't be the first time they seize tons of emails. This sounds weird, what do you think?"

Or "Mmm, 10 seconds to glance at an email, 6 hours a day because headaches, 8 days, that's about 17000 emails per guy, you'd need 50 people, I mean it's the FBI, that could be a national security issue, I'd certainly hope they can do that, don't you think?"

In both cases: wrap it in maybe's, sound like you're reasoning instead of lecturing, like you're asking for their help to solve a problem, sugarcoat a little, and end with an open question.

Then, if they admit Trump may not have been telling the truth... (He's a politician, btw, so yes he's gonna lie and spout rhetoric, no surprises here).

Come on. You can't possibly expect to say "But! Trump lied!" and be taken seriously, while supporting a Clinton.

Here, we all know our politicians are lying self-serving bastards. Culture shock, I guess! Anyone raving about a candidate will usually earn "you really believe this shit he said?" and the usual reply is "well, no, but he's less worse than the others, so... okay..."

Try this:

"Well, maybe he was in a lying contest with Hillary! Politicians..."

This wraps up in just a few words that you acknowledge that not all conservatives love Trump, that you feel the same about your candidate, like "Well what could I do, there were no other democrats to vote for!"

If you're lucky someone will say "yeah, same here".

Now I'm gonna tell you the truth about this quote:

You can't review 650,000 new emails in eight days. You can't do it, folks," Trump said, adding, "Hillary Clinton is guilty. She knows it, the FBI knows it, the people know it, and now it's up to the American people to deliver justice at the ballot box on November 8.

I know it's a lie. But it's excellent rhetorics, and it got Trump elected. So he was right in saying it.

Elections are not won by being nice...

I knew I was upset and decided not to press the issue.

Don't debate politics while upset. If your opponent is any good, they'll turn your own feelings against you and make you dig your own hole. If you get upset enough, you might even lose your wits and do it on your own...

You made a bad first impression. Not pressing the issue was a wise decision.

Now, I'll go on a tangent: I followed this election with lots of attention from the other side of the atlantic, due to the stakes. This is a bit fuzzy now, since I'm writing from memory, but that'll do. When Comey happened, there was quite a bit of debate on conservative websites about why. He seemed to be a Clinton supporter at first. So, why did he sink Clinton? People wondered if he'd been blackmailed or pressured. The whole business smelled very suspicious. Also, at the time it happened, the media seemed to lessen their previously extreme pro-Clinton bias. This was really noticeable. Some tinfoils postulated that the "deep state" had dropped support for Hillary due to her being insane, out of control, too corrupt, a vocal supporter of war with Russia, and possibly the spawn of Satan, in no specific order. After the election, it came apparent that many media outlets also fudged the polls. So the polls were also fake. But since I'm french, I'd be surprised anyone would be surprised about fake polls. Our pollsters have been caught red-handed numerous times...

So... IMO, it is likely that both your conservative ex-buddies and you are wrong, no-one will know the gory truth of who messed with the elections. I'd bet that lots of shady stuff happened. Both sides probably cheated, ballot stuffing was reported, etc.

So to close the "ask a conservative if Comey sunk Clinton" tangent: I have no idea, most likely the truth will never come out, debating about it seems futile.

And I really don't like it when people disagree with me, not about issues, but about basic facts about events.

I disagree with you on the facts: I think the facts are unknown, buried too deep under too many lies and potential scandals.

It's like dark matter: you can see the galaxies and celestial bodies have unexplained orbital velocities, so there must be an underlying reason, but what is it?... Haven't found it yet!

This means you really picked the worst possible topic: in order to win, you'd have to convince them that they're wrong, but also admit that you're wrong...

While I don't necessarily expect people to agree with me on everything, I appreciate it when I'm heard out.

Well, to wrap this up I'm gonna explain how to get along with conservatives:

(Very) broadly speaking, there are two kinds of lefties: libertarians and authoritarians. I get along just fine with the first because they're usually very open to debate. In fact I enjoy talking with them. They're more the classical liberals. An example would be Jordan Peterson (he's kinda my liberal crush).

As for the authoritarians, egalitarians, the PC/SJW crowd, now this is a different can of worms. Since most of the media, journalists etc belong to this category, conservatives are constantly bombarded with messages telling them they're wrong, evil, etc, also facts are systematically ignored... a bit like what you experienced, I sympathized with you not liking the experience.

Thus, anyone leaning slightly to the right develops a very strong bullshit filter. If they characterize you as hysterical liberal, they will simply tune you out, thinking "Not again! Go away!"

Consider TheEnvironmentalist's response, who helpfully provides a perfect example of this. He chooses to frame conservatism as a kind of a mental illness or something, then frames the righties as clueless temperamental children who will throw a tantrum if you disagree.

This misses the point: they simply ignored you because you opted to posture as the stereotypical liberal taking the moral high ground and lecturing them. And they've had enough of this. So you got kicked out.

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    but the righties tend to be much quieter you've got that so wrong. Some Republicans are extremely vocal in their disdain (hatred) of Democrats, and vice versa.
    – user3114
    Commented Sep 18, 2017 at 13:48
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    here - you never hear them ;)
    – user2135
    Commented Sep 18, 2017 at 13:50
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    And you seem to have missed the point, the OP had factual proof, data that disproved a statement voiced by a right-wing supporter. He wanted to inform the assembly, he wasn't openly supporting Hillary Clinton. The OP hesitantly offered a fact but he lacked the authority and conviction to make it sound convincing.
    – user3114
    Commented Sep 18, 2017 at 13:53
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    Yeah, the "650000 emails can't be reviewed in a week" is a trump lie, I totally agree about that, I wanted to suggest how to say it in a way that would be well received... And that needed a bit of context. About "it cost hillary the election" this isn't fact, just a conjecture.
    – user2135
    Commented Sep 18, 2017 at 13:58
  • This is the answer with actual advice about how you should have spoken up. Not with dismissal of what they're saying, and asserting a floating opinion as fact; but with an simpler and less aggressive observation to begin an actual conversation. Commented Sep 18, 2017 at 17:52

You're basically asking how to sell your agenda to someone who doesn't want/need it. The answer is, you can't.

So you have your personal opinion, based on something someone has written in Internet. But they have also their opinions, and also a lot of something that someone has written. But your single opinion was against everyone else, so I find it a good decision to ignore you instead of engaging in void argues with single biased individual (or, better said, single opposite-biased individual).

And what was your point of attending a conservative political club in the first line? If it was the 'conversion of false-believers' that it's a wrong side to help you in that goal...

  • Why can't you? Are there scientific studies that explain this is impossible? If so, what do they say?
    – Catija
    Commented Sep 20, 2017 at 16:33
  • @Catija, well, in fact, you're right. There are scientific studies on brain washing, that would tell, i'm wrong. I simply haven't considered brain washing as an integral part of interpersonal skills. Sorry for my naive beginner mistake.
    – user1707
    Commented Sep 20, 2017 at 18:26

You should start from the perspective that you weren't (totally) right.

Depending upon what kind of analysis is being done, and the resources that the FBI was prepared to expend upon it, 8 days could be totally insufficient. You say that 50 people should be able to do it, but assigning 50 people to work on a project for 8 days may take longer than 8 days to arrange. Were they supposed to be looking for secret (steganographically encoded) messages or just certain words? Particular words in the body of the messages, any vaguely competent researcher could do in under a day, but nudge, nudge, wink, wink would take longer, and secret messages could take years.

Once you've accpeted that you weren't totally right, you need to decide what kind of response you were looking for. If you wanted to start a discussion about that aspect, then instead of asserting that it was wrong, question what it meant, and why it would take longer than 8 days. If you wanted to start an argument, then calling it political theater would have been a good move.

Or combine the two and praise it as good political theater...

Any way you look at it, it wasn't a simple factual error that needed correction for the benefit of the speaker or the people there.

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