How To Have Impossible Conversations Book Summary By Peter Boghossian and James A. Lindsay

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Published in 2019, How to Have Impossible Conversations is a guide written by philosophers Peter Boghossian and James Lindsay that provides tips and techniques for having discussions on tough topics without causing those involved to feel like bursting into tears.

The book covers a range of strategies for engaging in respectful dialogue with opponents, even if feelings and beliefs differ drastically.

It includes rules for building rapport and cues for getting one's sparring partner to rethink her assumptions.

The authors maintain that though it may be difficult to agree with another person’s views, everybody benefits when perspectives are expressed openly.

How To Have Impossible Conversations Book

Book Name: How to Have Impossible Conversations (A Very Practical Guide)

Author(s): Peter Boghossian and James A. Lindsay

Rating: 4.5/5

Reading Time: 26 Minutes

Categories: Communication Skills

Author Bio

Peter Boghossian is an authority in the world of educating about the importance of having impossible conversations.

He is an assistant professor of philosophy at Portland State University, Oregon and frequently serves as a speaker at the Center of Inquiry.

Boghossian also has a vast global readership, teaching through lectures internationally with the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science.

He brings all this knowledge together to pen his book "How to Have Impossible Conversations".

If you are looking to learn more about how to navigate difficult conversations then Boghossian's book will help you gain insight into how to effectively do so.

It’s Possible To Debate Touchy Topics Without Getting Into A Fight – Here’s How


If you’re tired of getting in arguments that don’t help anyone, read How to Have Impossible Conversations.

This book is about learning how to approach controversial topics in a way that brings people together, rather than pushing them apart.

At its core, it teaches how to argue less and persuade more.

Authors Peter Boghossian and David Lindsay suggest replacing traditional debate tactics with careful questions and actually listening to answers from the other person.

It’s about understanding where the other person is coming from instead of trying to force your own beliefs on them.

The goal should be creating dialogue rather than division.

This book delivers insights on how to effectively talk about these polarizing topics without resorting to hostility or anger: How do you convince someone that a soul doesn’t weigh seven pounds? How can you explain something like the workings of a toilet without making assumptions? You’ll come away with tips for convincing others while also leaving them open-minded and willing to see things differently.

Having Productive Conversations In A Divided World: The Power Of Collaboration

Having a productive conversation when the divide between two people’s ideas, beliefs and worldviews feels unbridgeable can seem impossible.

But it doesn’t have to be if the conversation is collaborative.

When both sides are willing to listen to one another and come up with creative solutions together, it can help change beliefs in a more positive way than coercion alone.

Research shows that working together helps achieve better results than verbal combat and having someone tell you they’re wrong or stupid.

It also allows them to reach their own conclusions and understand why those conclusions were reached.

By learning how to have “impossible” conversations that are collaborative rather than combative, we can bridge divides, reassess our beliefs, and create positive changes for the future.

The Key To Effective Conversations Is Listening And Allowing People To Come Up With Their Own Ideas

If you want to change someone’s mind, the first step is to really listen to them.

This can be harder than you may think, but it’s essential if you want your conversation to be effective.

Listening is a key element of conversations between equals that can often get overlooked due to people being too caught up in trying to make their own point instead of focusing on what the other person has said.

Unfortunately, this kind of one-sided discourse backfires in most circumstances and ends up pushing people away from listening or accepting the argument that was pushed onto them.

That’s why Kurt Lewin’s 1940s case study about housewives and offal stands out so much – his research showed that when asked to come up with their own ideas (which actually involved being listened to!), 37% of women changed their minds on the recommended behavior – versus just 3% who were spoken at like pupils and lectured toward a conclusion.

Engaging in meaningful conversations requires far more than simply talking at someone or making statements; certainly, posing questions or allowing for some self-reflection helps increase understanding and allows individuals an opportunity to weigh their response before coming to any form of conclusion.

Listening patiently also conveys respect and empathy – both are required if any intended ideas are meant to stick!

It’s Easier To Talk Openly And Air Disagreements When You Build Rapport

Talk Openly

When trying to engage in productive conversations, especially when disagreeing with somebody, it’s important to first build rapport.

This is commonly referred to as having a sense of comfort and trust with someone, creating a friendly atmosphere before engaging in discussions on the actual topic at hand.

It’s much easier to talk openly, air out those disagreements and even learn something from them when you’ve both established some kind of connection with each other.

It shows that you both respect each other enough to let differences aside and put the importance of their friendship before arguing just to win or score rhetorical points.

This lesson has been seen by Street Epistemologists who often talk about controversial subjects with complete strangers.

They use an ancient Greek method – finding common ground first then conversing – to help people reevaluate beliefs without being offensive.

So if you’re dealing with someone you don’t know very well, it would be best to break the ice with non-confrontational topics such as name, occupation or location so you can find something in common first and build some rapport which could eventually lead into conversations about more serious matters.

Remember your conversational partner is also another person like you before looking at them as an abstract opponent!

Planting Seeds Of Doubt Is The Key To Re-Evaluating Our Beliefs

The key to having successful conversations with those who hold different views from you is to first plant a seed of doubt in them.

This will make them question their own beliefs and open up a dialogue that helps foster understanding.

Although it might sound simple, this isn’t easy to do.

To help you out, take a look at the research conducted by two psychologists who asked volunteers to rate their understanding of toilet design.

When they had the conversation about how toilets work, most began with confidence only to realize they didn’t really understand all the components – fill valves and overflow pipes, for example!

The results showed that when you ask people questions instead of lecturing them, it encourages them to think more deeply and reevaluate their beliefs.

Another way to go about this task is what Robert Wilson calls “the unread library effect.” People believe themselves to be experts on certain topics simply because they have access to a wealth of knowledge, like in a library setting – yet sometimes all this information goes unchecked!

A study released in 2013 revealed that political extremism was closely linked with an illusion of understanding due to this same phenomenon.

Now that we know all these things, it’s beneficial for us to model ignorance when trying to get someone else to second guess their views.

Ask open-ended questions and pretend not knowing the answer yourself; use follow-up questions if need be and dig further into the topic in order for your partner reconsider their position.

By taking this approach, either your companion realizes he actually doesn’t know much or – if he does happen to be informed – you can learn something new!

Ultimately, planting a seed of doubt kicks off an interesting conversation as well as encourages both parties involved keep an open mind when it comes any given situation.

Rapoport’S Rules: An Anti-Caricature Checklist To Foster Mutual Respect And Openness In Arguments

When it comes to navigating arguments and seeking common ground, Rapoport’s Rules offer an invaluable set of guidelines.

The Rules, which were systematized by philosopher Daniel C.

Dennett, constitute four main points: 1) rephrase your partner’s position in your own words; 2) list every point of agreement between you and your conversation partner; 3) tell them what you’ve learned from their argument; 4) voice disagreements only after you’ve gone through the previous three rules.

These rules enable us to engage constructively with others even when we strongly disagree with them.

For example, rephrasing allows us to demonstrate that we want to understand our partner’s position.

And underscoring points of agreement helps create a neutral terrain upon which we can both retreat if the argument gets too heated.

Lastly, Rule Three encourages a model of mutual respect: By citing what we have learnt from our conversation partners, we serve as an example of “pro-social modeling” – showing them how they would like us to behave.

Rapoport’s Rules provide a roadmap for constructive dialogue during even the most challenging conversations — increasing mutual understanding and fostering a sense of openness and respect.

The Real Divide Between People Like Bill Nye And Ken Ham: Evidence Vs Social And Moral Beliefs

Bill Nye

It’s essential to understand that not everyone forms their beliefs based on evidence.

This is key to having a successful conversation with someone who may have different views than your own.

Take the example of Creationism versus Evolutionary Theory.

The debate between Bill Nye and Ken Ham in 2014 highlighted this perfectly – when asked what it would take to change their minds, Nye responded “evidence”, while Ham’s answer was “nothing”.

Nothing could change his opinion.

It’s important to be aware that some people are not swayed by facts at all – rather, their beliefs (especially those around religion) may be based on either moral or social considerations.

For example, they may view themselves as good Christians if they subscribe to Creationist views, or simply find it easier to fit in if they believe the Bible literally.

In such cases, arguments based solely on facts won’t make much of an impact- after all, we tend to place more value on feedback from peers and role models than we do on evidence alone.

Understanding that not everyone bases their beliefs on evidence can help us become better communicators when engaging with somebody who has different views.

Ultimately, it allows us to come up with an alternate approach for talking about challenging topics – one which respects the other person’s opinions and values.

Questions Are More Powerful Than Facts In Changing Someone’S Mind

When engaging in difficult conversations, evidential arguments are often not the most successful method of persuasion.

Instead, posing logical questions can be a great way to challenge someone’s beliefs and encourage them to re-evaluate their opinion.

Take for example, an atheist trying to convince her religious colleague that his belief in God is incorrect.

If she attempts to present evidence as her sole source of proof, then it will likely backfire and make her colleague become even more convinced that he’s right.

However, if she takes a different approach and begins by focusing on the internal logic of his belief; asking him open questions to get at the root of what he believes and why he believes it; then it opens up a conversation which encourages discussion and encourages him to think about his views objectively.

This same approach can be taken when trying to persuade someone to change their mind – ask them logical questions instead of presenting facts or overwhelming them with evidence.

That way, your opponent won’t feel like they have something to defend so they might be more open to considering alternative perspectives.

The Art Of Hostage Negotiation: How To Make Difficult Conversations Less Challenging

Difficult Conversations

The art of hostage negotiation is a powerful tool when it comes to resolving difficult conversations.

By utilizing certain techniques used by hostage negotiators, we can better understand how to make these tricky conversations run more smoothly.

One such technique is called minimal encouragers; these silent signals – like “Yeah,” “I see,” or simply “OK” – let the speaker know that you are actively listening and engaging in the conversation.

Another useful tool is called mirroring, which involves repeating the last two or three words of a statement back as a question.

The goal here is to keep the conversation flowing and gain more information about what your partner has said.

The third suggestion from hostage negotiations experts is something referred to as building a golden bridge; this means allowing your partner an easy way to save face rather than feeling stuck in their position.

Acknowledging that this problem would be hard for anyone and emphasizing understanding will encourage them to continue further negotiations peacefully.

Finally, reach out for smaller issues first – deal with things that are easily discussed in order to produce an environment of mutual success.

This will breed positivity and civility even when tackling larger disagreements within difficult conversations.

Overall, there’s much we can learn from the field of hostage negotiation on how best to improve communication during challenging conversations.

Wrap Up

“How to Have Impossible Conversations” provides a practical guide on how to talk with the people on the other side of moral and political divides.

The key message is that conversations between different sides doesn’t have to be futile, as long as we are willing to listen, stop lecturing and voice disagreements civilly.

The book also suggests identifying the source of conflicts by listening to one’s own “moral dialect”, reflecting on how words such as “racism” or “freedom” mean something different for everyone, and using this information to recognize whether disagreements are about semantics or worldviews.

All in all, by heeding this advice it is possible to reevaluate our beliefs, start constructive conversations and even change each other’s minds.

Arturo Miller

Hi, I am Arturo Miller, the Chief Editor of this blog. I'm a passionate reader, learner and blogger. Motivated by the desire to help others reach their fullest potential, I draw from my own experiences and insights to curate blogs.

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