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How to be the guy who stops offensive speech (instead of 'egging it on')

Courtesy of Alex Czopp
Alex Czopp, Psychology Professor at Western Washington University

Earlier this month, a tape of Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump bragging about groping women sent his campaign into turmoil.

But it's not just Trump on that recording. You can also hear Trump being encouraged by former Today Show host Billy Bush.

Trump's wife, Melania Trump, said in an interview Monday that the problem with the tape wasn't what her husband said, but the way Billy Bush "egged him on."

So how could Bush have handled it differently? Western Washington University psychology professor Alex Czopp has studied this, and he says there are strategies you can use to push back against people who say something offensive.

"Depending on the person and how well you know them, something slight like changing the subject and hopefully relying on that person's emotional intelligence to read this as a cue of disapproval," Czopp said. 

Other strategies include appealing to someone's ego by affirming them in the midst of your critique of their comment. An example of this could be: "You're such an intelligent and well-informed person, I'm surprised to hear you say that."

The idea behind these strategies is to make the confrontation less awkward, which could result in the person changing their behavior down the road.

"By sort of greasing the wheels a little bit you're making them not so reactive to the negativity involved," Czopp added.

Using direct confrontation, such as saying "that's racist!" or "that's sexist!"to someone can be ineffective according to Czopp.

"Nobody likes to be accused of being racist. Even racists don't like that. So the idea that it's going to lead to any positive change is unlikely," he said. 

One's privilege can also play a role in how effective pushback can be. In Czopp's research, he found that in many situations, members of groups that are not the ones targeted by the offense can be more effective in communicating prejudice to others.

"Men and whites in those situations tend to be a little bit more persuasive in their confrontations, because they're not seen as the ones who are over-reacting. They're not seen as the typical complainers who say everything is sexism or racism," he said.

Czopp also has advice for people who get pushback from others when they say something offensive: "We don't like to be accused of this type of bias," he said. "But if we swallow that pride a little bit and understand how this is going to make us better, and we're closer as a result of this conversation."

Year started with KUOW: 1985 – 1986, 1991 – 2004, 2012