Amanda Ripley discusses how to disagree with grace

amanda ripley talkingMany people try to avoid discussions where the participating parties do not agree, but not journalist and author Amanda Ripely. She wants everyone to engage in this type of high conflict and deal with it to make sure they feel heard, even if they can’t reach an agreement with the other group.

“I’m not saying we should [all] agree. I’m saying we should be angry… be able to deal with that anger to make this nation better,” said Ripley.

Ripley gave the above-mentioned advice in a discussion on March 14 at Queens University of Charlotte’s Belk Chapel. She has written for The New York Times, The Atlantic, Slate, Politico, The Times London, and many others, and her book “The Unthinkable: Who Survives When Disaster Strikes – and Why,” was published in 15 different countries and made into a documentary by PBS. Through her work and conflict mediation, Ripley has also talked to the U.S Senate and the Department of Homeland Security.

The lecture in Belk Chapel, “Can we talk? It is possible for us to disagree with grace again,” was made possible by the North Carolina Humanities Council, Solutions Journalism Network, and Rick Thames, who is currently a visiting professor in the Knight-Crane School of Communication and on the Board of Trustees of the North Carolina Humanities Council. President Pamela Davies gave a brief welcome for the night, followed by an introduction from Paula Watkins, director of the North Carolina Humanities Council, and further comments by Thames.

One of Ripley’s pieces, “Complicating the Narratives,” served as the foundation for the lecture at Queens. From her experiences in engaging in high conflict, Ripley has identified three rules that deal with complicated issues where individuals can agree to disagree.

“There’s a difference between contempt and getting angry. People will not listen until they feel heard. Literally and figuratively” said Ripley.


The following are methods Ripley proposed to make sure that people feel heard by setting out rules to engage in high conflict:

1. The Loop of Understanding

Drawing from her experience at the Difficult Conversations Lab at Columbia University, Ripley matched with a stranger concerning the topic of safe spaces and trigger words on campus, recorded the conversation, and played it back to analyze how they responded and reacted. Through this and other mediation work, Ripley found that “facts do not persuade in high conflict.” Aside from this, she has found that people don’t always clarify exactly how they’re feeling in their first attempt. That’s why individuals need to listen carefully, synthesize what they have just said, and say it back to their partner to make sure the intended meaning was correctly interpreted.

It is important to loop back to the important question and make sure the other person understands. “You don’t ask the important question once, you ask it multiple times… the answer you want to get is ‘exactly.’” said Ripley.

2. Ask better questions

If, after looping, the other person’s answer is not “exactly,” it means the speaker has not synthesized and understood the other person the first time and must be corrected. As Ripley advised, everyone needs to know the questions that get underneath the content of the issue. This can be easier said than done, but the following questions can always be helpful in increasing understanding of the subject:

  • What is oversimplified about this issue?
  • How has this conflict affected your life?
  • What do you think the other side thinks of you?
  • Where do you feel torn?
  • Tell me more.

Asking these questions is important to make the conversation as personal as possible, as they allow people to step back and reflect. However, people have to want to know more about how others feel and what their own reasoning is for their views.

3. Infographics

“Invest in infographics,” said Ripley. “People will be more willing to believe it. Show don’t tell, it’s more likely to break through.”


Ripley has carefully researched these methods and feels they are the key forrepairingg discourse between groups locked in disagreement as well as fundamental for more fluid conversations.

“Giving the complicated story means more better conversation… everything is possible when you feel heard,” said Ripley.

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Published by students of Queens University of Charlotte, 1900 Selwyn Avenue, Charlotte, N.C. 28274.