YOU KNOW what it's like. You're in a discussion, and even though you're making some good points, you don't feel satisfied with your conversation because you're getting too worked up. You can feel your own upsetting feelings take away from your message. You want to do better.
Below are a few things that will help you feel more relaxed during these conversations. This will help get your message to penetrate.
1. Don't try to "win the argument." Ideally, don't even think of it as an argument. Think of your role as one of telling someone something surprising and interesting that they didn't know. But the goal of "winning the argument" will make you too high strung.
Scale down your goal and you will instantly feel calmer. Aim for something more reasonable and attainable: Aim to get a little solid information across, so the other person is a little more informed about Islam after the conversation. Think in terms of small bits and long campaigns. This will help keep you calm and increase your ability to persuade. Oddly enough, people are more persuaded by calm understatement than intensity.
2. If the other person makes a surprising argument or asks a surprising question that throws you off, think of that as something useful. Think of it as something to pursue — either to find out more about it so you are better informed for the next conversation, or think more about it so you will have a good response next time.
You can help others in the same boat if you will send me whatever stumped you (and your response if you came up with one). I like to publish things like that. It helps us all in this difficult task.
Also, whenever you have a difficult conversation, please tell us about it at Talk About Islam Among Non-Muslims. We would love to help you deal with difficult conversations.
If you go into a conversation with this attitide — the attitude that you'll learn the most from the most difficult conversations — you will be less flappable. You'll stay genuinely calmer.
3. Know a lot. This really helps you stay calm. If you know you have much more knowledge about Islam than the other person — if you are well-versed in Islam, if you've read the Quran, if you've listened to audio material many times, if you've studied the answers to objections — it's fairly easy to stay calm, no matter what they say to you. It will all be "old hat" and you'll easily be able to answer anything they come up with.
4. Be clear ahead of time about what are the three most important points to get across. Do the same kind of preparation people do for television interviews. That is, keep your primary message in mind, and use whatever the other person says as a jumping off point to get your message accross.
In the article, The Least You Need to Know (now made into a blockbuster motion picture), I shared with you the three points I think are most important to get across, but in the comments you'll see some alternatives readers offered. The important thing is for you to figure out what are the three points you think are most important, and really work on them. Become knowledgable about those points. Figure out a good way to present those points. And then when a conversation on Islam comes up, try to transition your conversation to a place where you can make those points.
There's nothing magical about the number three. In a conversation, you may not be able to get all three across. Maybe just two or one, depending on how much time you have. But the point is to have a few points, a very few points, already decided and prepared ahead of time.
5. Aim to be calmer and more reasonable than the person you're talking to. Be the better person. Make no personal jabs, don't use sarcasm, don't raise your voice, don't raise the pitch of your voice or sound hysterical, etc. Make them admire the way you're handling yourself. You can do this if you aim for it.
6. Don't overgeneralize about the person you're talking to. Their overgeneralizing about you is one of the things that gets you so upset in conversations. The second you open your mouth to express your point of view — as soon as they know what you're point of view is — they've put you in a box that you may not actually fit into, and that box sometimes prevents you from getting through, and it's frustrating.
Be better than that. Don't do this to people. If you can restrain yourself from overgeneralizing, it will make your conversation easier. Don't set yourselves up as two opposing viewpoints if you can help it. There is a lot you two agree about.
Don't put the other person in a box, even if they've done it to you. The person may not be as one sided as you assume or as unreasonable as you expect.
7. Take time off from the fight. Relax and take care of yourself. Take care of your relationships. You've got to be in this for the long haul and not burn yourself out.
8. Stay in good communication with several people who support what you're doing, who understand how important it is, and who believe and admire your willingness to fight. It is a psychological boost to hang out with people like this. Find people of like mind on Facebook and friend them. Gather together a posse. Join your local Act For America chapter and go to the meetings. It is so encouraging to see and talk to people who understand what's going on.
Use these eight principles to help you stay calm and relaxed during your conversations about Islam. Remember this article, bookmark it or print it out, and refer to it right before you're going to have a conversation about Islam, or right after. Learn to make these eight principles your natural way of dealing with conversations. If you do, I think you'll find you can really enjoy these conversations, and if you're enjoying them, you will be remarkably persuasive without even trying.
Learn more about influencing your friends: