Response Modes

What should I say, and how should I say it?

When faced with a statement or conversation in which misinformation is being shared, or the topic is contested and not well understood, it can be difficult to know how to engage and respond.  What does the research say? 

In fact, a world of possibilities exist. Here are some options for conversational responses that reflect the latest research, are effective, and build trust that our team is actively exploring in the ARTT Research Catalog.

To correct someone in a discussion is to “show or tell someone that something is wrong and to make it right” (Cambridge Dictionary). The goals for this approach can vary. One goal may be to correct the speaker about a specific issue such as climate change or vaccination. Another goal might be to equip the speaker with general skills to identify inaccurate information. There might also be times when you want to make sure that others listening in on the conversation have access to correct facts.

This is a method that has been observed in practical interventions in which someone offers to undergo source evaluation and fact-checking processes in tandem with someone else. Co-verification has yet to be tested in research studies, as far as we know [6]. It is likely to co-occur with other ARTT categories, specifically ‘Correct’ and ‘Encourage Healthy Skepticism.’

De-escalation is a reduction of hostilities between different individuals or groups. This is an overarching goal of efforts in conflict resolution or transformation (for a definition of conflict transformation, see [5]. Concretely, a number of methods such as using humor, reminding the other party about shared values (see Encouraging Norms) can help in de-escalating a conflict. This ARTT tag is likely to co-occur with other ARTT tags. In our catalog, interventions to reduce affective polarization are also associated with this tag.

Having empathy is pretty complicated to define, but it is an identification with someone else on an emotional level. According to one definition, “empathy is the ability to recognize, understand, and share the thoughts and feelings of another person, animal, or fictional character” (Psychology Today). Empathizing is a key mode of responding in conflictual exchanges where resolution or a transformation of the relationship is the goal.

To encourage healthy skepticism is to help others ask questions of the information they are reading, such as “What do other sources say?” or “What’s the evidence?”. Being able to critically evaluate information by not immediately believing new claims is an important part of healthy skepticism. This response mode is not the same as being skeptical of all information, but rather encompasses a wide set of goals of information and media literacy programs.

Norms are principles of “right action binding upon the members of a group and serving to guide, control, or regulate proper and acceptable behavior’ (Merriam Webster). In our catalog, norms refer to both perceived descriptive norms (what most people do) as well as injunctive norms (what one ought to do) outside of the force of law [1]. Thus, this tag includes reminders of social value ascribed to accuracy as well as “nudges” — a non-coercive device that leads people to certain decisions — towards being respectful and open in communication. Some approaches from conflict resolution may also be tagged under this tag.

One definition of listen is “to hear something with thoughtful attention: give consideration” (Merriam Webster). While listening may not seem like much of a response, it is a critical part of a trust-building exchange, especially in situations where one is thinking about the possibilities for longer term dialogue or engagement outside the immediate message being discussed [2].

By listening silently, participants can understand more about whether to respond or how to respond. For example, it may be that the person you want to engage with isn’t really willing or ready to discuss differences of opinion [7]. It can also be that responding to a query only with factual answers misses cues that the message writer is sending about problems they are having.

Sharing is an action that seems synonymous to social media. But in our catalog, it is currently used in a specific way to imply a deeper engagement in a conversation. This response category is still under active development.

Sharing one’s own story is one way that people explain their reasoning through their own personal experience of navigating a difficult decision. Even in digital spaces, telling stories about one’s own “health journey” can be an effective way to share information while also encouraging reflection [3]. Sharing information with shared values in mind can be a way to build trust, which is why we’re reviewing literature around knowledge sharing. In addition, when sharing complicated information, methods around communicating uncertainty may also fall under the Share response mode.

Also phrased as “perspective taking”, this mode is the “act of viewing a situation from the point of view of others” [4]. By doing this, people can identify another person’s intentions and needs even though they may not agree with them, which may reduce impasses and decrease discrimination. While empathizing involves sharing of others’ emotions, perspective taking is to help identify other’s intentions, needs, reactions, and behaviors.

Last updated: July 14, 2022

A more in-depth view of response mode definitions, along with methods and outcomes, can be found here.


[1] Berkowitz, Leonard. 1972. “Social Norms, Feelings, and Other Factors Affecting Helping and Altruism.” In Advances in Experimental Social Psychology, 6:63–108. Academic Press.

[2] Bojer, Marianne (“Mille”), Marianne Knuth, and Colleen Magner. 2006. “Mapping Dialogue: A Research Project Profiling Dialogue Tools and Processes for Social Change (Version 2.0).” Johannesburg, South Africa: Pioneers of Change Associates. 

[3] Haigh, Carol, and Pip Hardy. 2011. “Tell Me a Story — a Conceptual Exploration of Storytelling in Healthcare Education.” Nurse Education Today 31 (4): 408–11.

[4] Klimecki, Olga M., Matthieu Vétois, and David Sander. 2020. “The Impact of Empathy and Perspective-Taking Instructions on Proponents and Opponents of Immigration.” Humanities and Social Sciences Communications 7 (1): 91.

[5] Maddison, Sarah. 2017. “Can We Reconcile? Understanding the Multi-Level Challenges of Conflict Transformation.” International Political Science Review / Revue Internationale de Science Politique 38 (2): 155–68.

[6] Office of the U.S. Surgeon General. 2021. “A Community Toolkit for Addressing Health Misinformation.” Office of the U.S. Surgeon General.

[7] Van Til, Jon. 2011. “The Structure of Sustained Dialogue and Public Deliberation.” In Resolving Community Conflicts and Problems : Public Deliberation and Sustained Dialogue, edited by Roger A. Lohmann and Jon Van Til, 15–32. New York: Columbia University Press.