This guide is a starting point for understanding people, not for pushing an ideological agenda. Use it with the intention of connecting with your family and friends while talking immigration or other tough topics. Trust that they will listen to you too, and that they will respond thoughtfully when enough time and patience is given.
You can’t expect someone to hear you out if you don’t repay the favor in kind – upfront, with interest. In other words, listening for 20 minutes and talking for 2 may be the appropriate way to reach someone. Active listening is important, too. Ask for clarification, ask why questions, and you will discover the unique perspective from where they are coming from.
Avoid name calling. If you think what they are saying is racist, evidence shows that calling them a racist or xenophobic does not lead them to question their prejudices. Remain calm, continue listening, and when it’s your opportunity to speak, make your point.
When you do speak, make it memorable. Your family member or friend is more likely to remember your point if it’s part of a story involving a person. Visit our hundreds of stories that can be used as a part of your conversations, or spend some time together watching one of the many TV shows that we’ve consulted on.
A conversation about group identity can digress into an argument. Don’t fall for it. Reassure your family member or friend that you care about what’s happening in your neighborhood. You need to convey that you don’t blindly care about your side “winning;” rather, you care about your shared quality of life.
Emphasize any point of agreement that you can find. Show that you are listening by referencing what they’ve said earlier, or challenge them to think about a topic in a new way by agreeing with part of their statement. Any kind of agreement relieves tension, and encourages future discussions, even if, at the end of the conversation, you remain far apart. You may still have to talk to them a few more times before they start to get it. It’s best to keep that door open, even if it doesn’t go as you hoped the first time.
For eight years, Define American has asked thousands of people how they sum up what makes this country unique, special and free. The overwhelming answer: We are American because we are here. We are in the game. We are building a nation together.