Groupwork Centre Blog

Hateful comments: Defensive or Curious?

Cartoon image of a young man talking to a computer

When we go beyond the flight/fight response, we open up options

Conversations with people who hate us or have very different and challenging points of view take huge courage – and there is no doubt this is the pointy end of facilitation, particularly if you’re caught off-guard.

Review of Dylan Marron’s trailer for his podcast series Conversations with people who hate me

These conversations by Dylan Marron are brave and amazing, but one thing he is not, is caught off-guard. In fact, as you listen, you realise the tables are turned and he’s catching the other person off-guard by actually calling them and  repeating back the very hateful words that they used online about him and his writing.

After he does that he asks them, “what inspired you to write those words?”

That’s a very disarming thing to say to someone who’s just thrown a punch! It makes it very hard to keep punching.

Making this whole thing a lot easier for him is the fact that he’s emotionally/mentally prepared and grounded. He knows what he’s dealing with, so he is not in flight/fight mode. It’s that triggered state that makes our responses to hateful comments so difficult because all we want to do is REACT.

Theory v Reality when we come across a hateful comment

I feel sure that as facilitators (depending on our experience), we totally KNOW the theory behind what we SHOULD say in moments like these, but we often can’t or don’t (certainly not with any genuine inquiry or compassion for where the person is coming from) because all the precious blood that would fuel the more enlightened response has left our neocortex.

Our body is telling us ‘this is no longer a time for reflection and inquiry. This is a time to either kill or be killed!’

Ideally, what we need IN THE MOMENT is override the great instinctive and primal reflex buried in our DNA so that we remain Zen.  I think that takes great practice and self-awareness, and has very little to do with our knowledge about theories of responses when being attacked.

You could read a million books, but they will all be flotsam and jetsam in the wake of the state that we are automatically transformed into when accosted by a hateful attack.

Here’s what I do when I’m triggered by a hateful comment

1.    Remind myself to stop, breathe and let that spike of adrenaline and cortisol subside before I speak. It’s preparation and grounding in the moment. Anything coming out of my mouth before then will be counterproductive.

2.    Slow everything down by listening and breathing, to help reverse the physiological impacts of the flight/fight response.

3.    To buy some time, I might reflect back what I’ve heard the person say so that we can at least agree on what’s just been said. Even though this might only be a few seconds, sometimes there’s a powerful change in direction and priority.

Care for each other becomes more important than winning arguments when we realise the danger zone we are in.

So, back to Dylan, because maybe what he’s doing shows us how best to tackle these hateful reactions: and that is LATER – after some time has passed. Dylan’s approach of engaging with people in this way allows the magic of time to dissolve the previously hateful-sounding troll, and let the human being that lies within to re-emerge.  It really works a treat.

In the examples he uses in the trailer, the people responsible for hateful comments are mostly already backing away from whatever they’ve said, once he begins to engage with them. Glen Ochre once famously said:

“Everyone has the capacity for insight and transformation”.

By choosing to connect with people as if there was no hate there at all, Dylan goes a long way to proving this true.

There’s a really powerful line that summarises the transformation that’s possible in these deeply hurtful places, if the right ingredients are present. Dylan asks one of his interviewees “do you still hate me?” The response is incredible. First laughter and then: “I no longer hate you, Dylan … and you know why?  Because you’re willing to listen.   I’m listening to you and you’re listening to me and that’s the most important thing”.

I really encourage you to have a look at the link because there is so much to learn as facilitators just watching the trailer and reflecting on the threshold that Dylan is brave enough to cross … and the amazing things he finds on the other side.

Thanks to the wonderful Viv McWaters, who shared this podcast on the Australasian Facilitators Network email forum recently.

Take care everyone.


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