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How to Have Impossible Conversations: A Very Practical Guide

3.94  ·  Rating details ·  1,236 ratings  ·  178 reviews
"This is a self-help book on how to argue effectively, conciliate, and gently persuade. The authors admit to getting it wrong in their own past conversations. One by one, I recognize the same mistakes in me. The world would be a better place if everyone read this book." -- Richard Dawkins, author of Science in the Soul and Outgrowing God

In our current political climate, it
Paperback, 272 pages
Published September 17th 2019 by Da Capo Lifelong Books
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Flutlicht No, but you can see it like a guide for (e.g.) a politician who in his campaign is encountering many extremist viewpoints. The book advises the reader…moreNo, but you can see it like a guide for (e.g.) a politician who in his campaign is encountering many extremist viewpoints. The book advises the reader how to deal with difficult people, who easily freak out, insult you or get aggressive during a conversation when you disagree with them.
My personal impression is that the authors did not write the book to encourage dialogue in society, but to equip professionals with the tools to avoid scandals or to react in the best possible way without losing their own temper/face etc.

Hope that helps.(less)

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Sep 28, 2019 rated it liked it
There are some really helpful hints in here but most of them are pretty obvious to anyone that has empathy or a little bit of emotional EQ. Don’t shoot people down, don’t assume your opponents are evil, don’t be an asshole. But I had some issues with this one: first of all, the book is pretty biased. The authors try not to be, but most of their examples are about how to convince liberals that they are wrong and how to convince religious folks that they are irrational. Which would not be a proble ...more
May 30, 2020 rated it it was ok
Shelves: 2020, nonfiction, writing
"Conversations that remain civil empower you, and change even the staunchest of minds are possible--even across deep divides."
- Peter Boghossian and James Lindsay


My first take on this book was it was "a pretty good practical guide. Not perfect." But the more I read, the more the message of civility grinds into the walls of debate technique and manipulation. I don't think this book was written with good faith. It isn't about patching the divide between the right and the left, the godless and Jes
Sleepless Dreamer
Nov 30, 2020 rated it really liked it
I'm looking at the reviews here and wondering if I read the same book as everyone else. Yes, Boghossian and Lindsay use anti-liberal and anti-religious examples throughout the book but as someone who is both liberal and religious, I didn't feel like the usage of examples was the most important thing here. 

Instead, the authors dig into ways to have impossible conversations. By impossible conversations, they mean discussions about highly contested topics. We're living in such an age of political p
David Buccola
Jun 01, 2020 rated it did not like it
If you're looking for a book written by Mansplainers, this is for you! Peter Boghossian and James Lindsay have apparently spent a life-time trying to mansplain better and they've learned a few things they want to share with the class. I honestly went into this book thinking I might learn a few things but again and again I was just struck by how shallow and ignorant the authors were. If you've never thought about anything for more than few seconds you might find some insight here, but for a norma ...more
Alex Railean
This was a very practical and very helpful book. As in the case of "A manual for creating atheists", I noticed some negative patterns in my ways of building an argument. Now I am a better person and I strongly recommend this book to anyone who often engages in discussions about controversial subjects.

If you want to get the most out of this book, take notes as you go through it. Mine are here:
May 25, 2020 rated it it was ok
Shelves: reference, audiobooks

Part of this is my fault for picking books up from the library by only their titles and not even bothering to read the description. Part of it is my fault for not keeping up with Internet drama and not realizing that some Twitter people have a problem with contemporary feminism because [insert Apache helicopter joke x infinity]. About 10% of the way into this book, after the third or so not-so-subtle example using a token feminist/evangelical Christian/conservative Muslim/pick-your-bro-poli
Matthew Colvin
Apr 11, 2020 rated it liked it
Contains some helpful tips, but is mostly just common sense. The authors really do not understand religious people, and they direct a fair amount of obtuse condescension at them. The epistemology is surprisingly naive, considering one of the authors has a PhD in philosophy.

It’s also amusing to follow James Lindsay on Twitter and see that he takes almost none of his own and Boghossian’s advice from the book. He is snarky, engages in put downs and dismissive remarks, and generally is an amusing je
Aug 15, 2020 rated it really liked it
Unlike other difficult conversations books that cover things like how to give bad news or ask for a promotion, this one is specifically about how to have political, moral, or religious conversations. Despite what some of other reviewers assert, and despite the author’s opinions elsewhere, it does not take any specific viewpoint on what the outcomes of the conversations should be. It’s a pragmatic, slightly repetitive, guide on how to talk to people that you don’t agree with.

Here’s a dump of my
Moh. Nasiri
Piratical tips for a well established conversation and argumentation.
Read Summary here:

Oct 14, 2019 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: anyone with the slightest interest in controversial topics
A superb book about how to have socratic dialogues with other people.

Good points:
-There is no fluff. The book is brief and readable; and at the same time one of those books you'll keep rereading. Such is the quality of the advice.
-It is quite well ordered, from easy techniques to difficult ones.
-Probably the authors know what they are writing about: they have a lot of experience.

Bad points?:

-The book is about conversing with a willing partner face to face. It doesn't deal with written conversati
Harald Groven
A useful and much needed manual on how to discuss with someone who disagrees with you. Most advice are fairly socratic and common sensical. Most of the recommendations discuss all the things you shouldn't say, because they will heat up the discussion and is counterproductive. Eg.
— "Think of shaming someone as being like a live hand grenade (...) “There is no such thing as a diplomatic hand grenade.” Hand grenades damage or blow up bridges; they don’t build them."

One of Boghossian and Lindsay's
Sebastian Gebski
Feb 11, 2020 rated it it was amazing
In my case, it was a follow-up after "The Righteous Mind" (mainly) & "Predictably Irrational" (minorly).

In contrast to the explicit title, it's not 100% focused on the hardest of conversations - it starts with more "basic" cases, but to be precise: it's NOT about merit-based/fact-based conversations, but situations where beliefs or feelings overcome everything else. The book is surprisingly ... practical & dense - the initial set of chapters was very informative & packed with useful techniques.
Jason Rodriguez
Jan 08, 2021 rated it really liked it
3.5ish stars.

I do not consider myself as a particularly strong conversationalist. As the culture around us seems to become more and more divisive, I figured I could gain some helpful information and tips for engaging friends and family members who do not share my worldview. Overall, I am glad I picked this book up (i.e. listened to the audiobook). I think almost anyone could gain something out of this book.
Farah Chamma
Sep 17, 2020 rated it liked it
“You’ll need to overcome the urge to say everything that’s on your mind.” p.10

“Parallel talk is taking something someone says and using that to reference yourself or your experiences.” p.18

“Someone might say, for instance, “I hate the government,” when they mean they hate intrusive government, corruption, bureaucracy, concentrated political authority, or regulations that don’t comport with their values.” p.41

I find this advice quite narrow-minded and needs context in order to be given. This is
Nov 25, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I don't care who you are.
What you believe.
What you don't believe.
What you . . . whatever.

You must read this book.

I'm formally college-trained in Logic and Rhetoric, have years of debate under my belt, and have worked in advertising as a copywriter, but I have never gained as much practical experience in civil discourse, discussion, debate, and persuasion as I did by reading this book.

I say in all seriousness, that if everyone I knew read this book our society would
Jasper Burns
I've had the pleasure of having many contentious conversations over the past couple of years. This book dissects many of the problems and cognitive distortions present in these types of arguments and poses solutions to all of them.

All of the best techniques I've accidentally stumbled upon over the years (Rappaport's Rules, understanding falsifiability, etc) are here, plus more. I particularly enjoyed its focus on epistemology: understanding why someone holds a belief gives more leeway to challen
Feb 15, 2021 rated it liked it
There are some valuable insights in this book and a book of this kind is much needed in the current political climate. That said it kind of reads like someone mansplaining how to be a good listener which is kind of a weird vibe.
This one would be worth reading again. So much info! I need practice to remember it all - there is, fortunately however, a podcast: Street Epistemology ...more
Danielle Cumberland
Oct 30, 2020 rated it it was amazing
This book is terrific. Honestly, the year 2020 is beginning to feel like one interminable Impossible Conversation. Marriages are dividing. Best friends are quitting one another. And nobody can even count on the soothing rituals of Thanksgiving meals or weddings to smooth over the bumps. What to do? What to do? It feels like none of us knows.

Peter Boghossian seems to know though, at least, a bit. Learn and practice these interactions and watch the tone of civility increase in your life. It works
Oct 24, 2019 rated it really liked it
How to Have Impossible Conversations: A Very Practical Guide (2019) by Peter Boghossian and James A Lindsay is an interesting guide on how to discuss politics, religions and other general issues in a better way.

The authors write about how to have good conversations about non-personal topics. The list of seven fundamentals of good conversations is valuable, the discuss goals, partnerships, rapport, listening, shooting the messenger (which is don't deliver your truth), intentions and the value of
Aurora M
Apr 04, 2021 rated it liked it
In non-political settings, the advice here is mostly sound but also rather obvious unless you're very young or naive.

In political settings, the advice here is not only moot but rather dangerous given so much of the contemporary right engages in bad faith arguments. (And yes there are some people on the far left that are like that, but they don't have nearly the power or platform that the mainstream right wing does due to funding.) Also, some of the author's arguments are illogical to the point o
Justin Norman
Nov 01, 2019 rated it really liked it
I'm a bit torn about how to feel about this book. It focuses on a topic that I think is one of the most important issues in America at the moment: how to talk to people across political divides. The majority of it would seem to be great advice, but I was disappointed to discover that the book did not cover much on communicating through social media. This came as a surprise because I found out about both authors' writing through social media.

The book states that because no techniques have been pr
Martin Petersen
Jul 12, 2020 rated it really liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Dec 29, 2019 rated it really liked it
On a scale from 1 to 10, how certain am I with my 4 on a scale from 1 to 5 for this book?
Probably a 9. I would say it's very unlikely to disconfirm my opinion.
On a serious note. This is a very practical guide to have impossible conversations. Like the title says.
Why not a 5 then? Well I would have giving 5 start when it was the first of it's kind. And since Boghossian literally cites some of these books in this one, it isn't the first.

The mistake I made is buying the audio version. It's good
Oct 06, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
“No one cares how much you know until they know how much you care”

Listen to the audiobook review on the Audiobook Reviews in Five Minutes podcast:

Would you like to have more productive conversations with people who think differently than you or strongly disagree with you? Hint: it’s unlikely to happen online. While many fear that conversations about politics, religion, and values are a futile endeavour these days, this audiobook may encourage you to persevere in yo
Ideas Sleep Furiously
Apr 17, 2020 rated it really liked it
A desperately important book for our times. The extent to which you find some of the advice "obvious" might well vary with your emotional intelligence, but there's something for everybody here and it never hurts to be reminded of useful approaches. Their highly systematic approach is beautifully articulated. I whacked the book on 1.4 speed and finished in 5ish hours. It's a perfect audio book and feels like a long, but brilliant, podcast. ...more
Mish Bryant
Jun 05, 2020 rated it it was amazing
What an absolutely great book. this was something that as soon as I started reading it made me see the mistakes I make when talking to others or even when responding to other people. I have been actually telling those I know to read it, especially now with the current climate like it is as far as politics and social media.
Nov 09, 2020 rated it it was amazing
This book serves as an excellent tool/reference book similar to how I found "Never Split The Difference" by Chris Voss. It has practical and strategic principles for personal and professional conversations; understanding and negotiating. I am queueing it up for a second read while taking notes to revisit over again in the future. ...more
Oct 11, 2020 rated it it was amazing
I found myself highlighting so many times, I needed to just summarize each chapter and all the bullet points in to a Google Doc. Here is the link:
Oct 08, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: philosophy
A useful guide for how to influence people, have more civil and productive conversations, and how to be more humble and intellectually honest yourself. I would recommend revisiting this book periodically, even rereading every now and then (I plan to). We can all use a reminder that there is a better way to be. In today's political environment, this is a book that can potentially make a real difference if enough people read it (or listen) to it. 4.5/5 ...more
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