Recently, at a family get-together, an aunt of mine voiced a few concerning viewpoints – clearly fueled by misinformation and fake news.
Unfortunately, no one spoke up. No one felt confident enough to challenge her “facts” without causing a big fallout. Although I wasn’t there, a few of my cousins broached the subject with me:
What’s the best way to politely call out someone when they’re clearly in the wrong?
After researching the topic, it’s clear that with a little bit of tact and understanding, confronting someone doesn’t need to be nerve-racking or cause drama.
Here’s what I discovered:
1) Ask for clarification
Before going in and challenging someone, it’s best to make sure you’re clearly understanding them.
By doing this, you’re essentially allowing them to explain themselves better – this is a non-confrontational approach.
You’re showing them your genuine interest in understanding them and where they’re coming from, and not just dismissing their viewpoint.
I’ve often found people tend to be more receptive to hearing my opinion once I’ve given them the floor.
They tend to see it as more of a discussion where both views are being shared, rather than an attack on what they perceive is “right”.
2) Express your perspective
Now, when it comes to expressing your opinion, there are a few things to keep in mind:
- Breathe. When you’re heated or tense because someone is acting in a harmful or derogatory way (through their words or actions) you may end up becoming loud or agitated. Breathing deeply will relax you and allow you to calmly express yourself.
- Stick to the point. Don’t drag up all the wrongdoings that the person in question is guilty of in the past. This can make the situation much more volatile.
- Don’t try to get others to back up what you’re saying. Each person should take turns in sharing their perspective if you’re in a group. Otherwise, it’ll feel like you’re ganging up and attacking the person in question.
If you follow the above, you have more chance of opening a constructive dialogue rather than starting an argument.
And on the subject of avoiding making them feel like they’re being attacked…
3) Use “I” statements
When you take the focus off them and put it back on yourself, it stops the other person from feeling attacked.
For example, my friend used to be dismissive of my feelings. She thought tough love was the only answer when someone is in pain.
When I confronted her about it, instead of saying, “You always brush over what I’m saying and you never listen.” I opted for:
“I feel like my feelings aren’t being taken seriously. This is hurtful to me because I really value your advice.”
Surprisingly, she took the feedback on board. She’s never going to be the most empathetic person I know, but she’s made a lot of effort to listen and validate my feelings.
4) Invite a private discussion
Going back to the scenario I mentioned in the intro – no one called out my aunt on her crazy, scary viewpoints.
When I asked them why, quite a few said it was because they didn’t want to seem like they were disrespecting her in front of everyone else at the party.
Which is fair enough.
If you’re in this situation, simply ask the person if they’d join you in speaking privately.
You don’t have to make a big deal out of it, just suggest moving to another room so you can both speak freely.
If anything, this will show the other person that you’re being respectful of their dignity and not trying to embarrass them. This may make them more willing to hear you out and have a calm discussion.
5) Give them a chance to reflect
Sometimes, when someone is in the wrong, we can feel a sense of urgency to get them to change their mind.
But when we apply pressure, it usually backfires. They retreat even more into their negative or harmful mindset.
One way to give them a chance to reflect is to calmly share your opinion, and then back off. Give them time to consider what you’ve said, rather than badgering them to get on board.
Another option is to withhold your opinion, but simply ask them if there are any other possibilities/perspectives/ways of doing something.
For example, if my mom told me, “I think the best thing to do is ignore someone when you’re mad at them.” I’d say:
“Is that the only way to deal with conflict? Do you think there might be a healthier approach?”
By giving them the chance to think critically, they may come to a better conclusion by themselves…without you having to confront or attack them.
6) Ask open-ended questions
I’m going to continue with the scenario I’ve just mentioned above. It’s far more productive to say, “Why do you think that silent treatment is the best way?”
Rather than, “Oh, so you that’s how you handle conflict, really?”
To the former, they will probably respond with an explanation of their thinking. This will help you calmly and politely challenge what they’re saying.
With the latter, you’re either going to get a “yes” or “no” response…essentially shutting down any form of productive conversation.
7) Provide evidence respectfully
Quite often, when people are clearly in the wrong, they’ll reject the opinions of those around them. But they may be willing to listen when presented with cold, hard facts.
And this can be worked into a conversation quite naturally…
“Oh, I remembered you speaking about dogs not needing daily exercise. I happened to come across this article by a well-known vet, it was interesting, I’ve sent it to you to check out.”
This approach is casual. You’re not going to get their backup before they’ve even read the evidence.
And by reading the study or article in their own time, they may be more likely to approach it with an open mind (as opposed to if you’re standing breathing down their neck while they try to absorb the information).
8) Use humor (carefully)
Humor is another way to diffuse the situation but also get your point across.
However, if you choose this route, you’ve got to read the room, so to speak. Be careful not to sound like you’re mocking them or being sarcastic.
One example would be to say something like, “You’re not trying to pull one over on me, are you? Let’s look at the evidence together.”…With a slight chuckle and a wink, this shouldn’t be received too negatively.
9) Offer a compliment before addressing the issue
And finally, my favorite way of politely calling out someone when they’re clearly in the wrong:
Being nice to them.
It’s not about buttering them up in a fake way, it’s about starting the conversation off on the right foot.
For example, you might say something like, “I really value your opinion, but something doesn’t feel quite right here, perhaps we can talk about it further?”
Or, “You’ve always given me such good advice. This time I think it’s missing the mark though, I’d love to chat more about it with you.”
Essentially, most people soften a little if you drop in a genuine compliment before getting to the tough part.
So, as you can see, if you want to remain polite whilst calling someone out, it’s more about setting the right tone. Avoid attacking or ganging up.
Give people the chance to change their opinion before writing them off. And if they still won’t budge?
Learn to agree to disagree!
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