"What can I say? And how can I say it?"

Response Modes

Last Updated: May 24, 2024

References ↓

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. Conversational possibilities we have identified complete the following sentence:

“In this conversation, I could…”

A more in-depth view of response modes that includes detailed definitions, along with methods and outcomes, and references, can also be found in the Response Methods, Considerations, and Outcomes section of ARTT Research.

Go to Response Methods, Considerations, and Outcomes →

Do Not Respond

Sometimes, the best approach is to not respond at all, especially in certain situations. For instance, encountering someone who violates community rules or poses a threat are good reasons not to engage [1]. Also, choosing not to engage can be a deliberate and strategic decision to conserve mental resources [2] as well as emotional ones [3].

Example: You see posts that clearly violate a platform’s rules and endanger others. 

Goals: This is a good moment to consider your goals for an exchange: is this the right audience and do you have the right intentions? Is this the right time — are you in the right frame of mind?  For example, is the audience open-minded, are you trying to inform the public (as opposed to responding unproductively), are you feeling calm and safe? Researchers find that responding to online trolls encourages them to continue their behavior, because their motive is to annoy and upset people. Also, you may not want to engage with a poster or conversation where there does not appear to be a real willingness to discuss differences of opinion or reach agreement. By not engaging with such actors, you can conserve your energy and attention.

Understand: Listen, Empathize, Take Perspective

To understand is a response type that aims to comprehend and consider the other person(s) in the exchange. This is an acceptance of peoples’ emotions and perspectives whether they are contrary to fact.


One definition of listen is “to hear something with thoughtful attention: give consideration” [18]. This can include techniques like paraphrasing, where you briefly restate what has been said, and silent preparation, which focuses on quietly and attentively understanding the speaker.

Example: “What I think you’re saying is this. Is that right?”

Goals: While it might seem passive, listening can be critical in building trust with another, especially when exploring the potential for more extensive dialogue or engagement beyond the immediate conversation. By attentively listening, participants gain a deeper understanding of whether and how to respond. For example, the person you wish to interact with may not be open or ready to discuss differences. Also, providing only factual responses might miss important emotional cues that the speaker is communicating, such as their fears or excitement [4] [5].


According to one definition, “empathy is the ability to recognize, understand, and share the thoughts and feelings of another person, animal, or fictional character” [6]. Our definition of empathy focuses on the feelings of another, where it means to experience someone else's emotions and connect with them on a deep emotional level. (See “Take Perspective” for what is known as “cognitive empathy.”)

Example: “I understand how you feel.”

Goal: Empathy is crucial in conflictual situations where the aim is to resolve issues or transform relationships. Research demonstrates that empathy and perspective-taking can significantly impact social and political issues, such as the debate on immigration [7].

Take Perspective

Also phrased as ”perspective taking,” this mode is the act of viewing a situation from the point of view of others [7]. While empathizing involves sharing of others’ emotions, perspective taking helps identify other’s intentions, needs, reactions, and behaviors.

Example: In preparing for and during a discussion, imagine yourself in the shoes of the other person. Try to visualize yourself on the other side of the table, in that role, thinking as the other.

Goal: Engaging in perspective-taking can help people to identify another person’s thoughts and points of view even though they may not agree with them. It can help reduce deadlocks in discussions and decrease discrimination. Research also supports the use of perspective-taking to reduce affective polarization on social media [8].

Inform: Correct, Co-Verify, Encourage Healthy Inquiry

To inform is a response type that focuses on the quality of information by scrutinizing it, and seeks to provide or explain complex information, complicated knowledge, empirical information, evidence-based knowledge/information, and trustworthy competent knowledge.


To correct someone in a discussion is to show or tell someone that something is wrong as well as pointing to or explaining what is accurate. There are several ways that one might offer a correction, including by helping another person to understand an alternative explanation to their original reasoning [9]. 

Example: “Reports of deaths after taking COVID vaccines are extremely rare. CDC has more information on this: https://tinyurl.com/5epay3wn. Remember that a report doesn’t necessarily mean that vaccines caused the death. The rate of adverse events caused by vaccines is extremely low.”

Goals: 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.


Co-verifying involves engaging a third party from your network or community to help evaluate sources and check facts. Co-verification has been tested in educational contexts, and was recently included in the U.S. Surgeon General’s toolkit for addressing health misinformation [10] [11]. 

Example: “Imagine your uncle has just been diagnosed with a serious illness and is convinced that an obscure cure being sold online will help him. Talk to him about the struggles you’ve had figuring out what to trust in terms of health information available online. Talk to him about how frightened he must be by this diagnosis and that you will help him find the most trustworthy information.”

Goals: Co-verifying can build bonds with others while helping them learn how to verify. By offering to share your processes of source evaluation and fact-checking with someone else, you can help a person understand how they might replicate or practice these methods later.

Encourage Healthy Inquiry

To encourage healthy inquiry is to help others ask questions of the information they are reading, such as “What do other sources say?” or “What’s the evidence?” [12]  This response mode is not the same as being skeptical of all information.

Example: Asking someone “What other sources confirm this for you?” can be a place to start. Encourage the person to think about the motivations and biases of the source of the information, and why they find it credible. 

Goal: Being able to critically evaluate information by not immediately believing new claims is an important part of healthy inquiry. Targeted education like lateral reading instruction can improve fact-checking strategies and critical thinking skills among students [13] [14]. This response mode encompasses a wide set of goals of information and media literacy programs.

Connect: De-Escalate, Invite Sociability, Share

To connect is a response type where you actively join the conversation in a tactful way, and seek to strengthen connections to others.


De-escalation involves reducing tensions between individuals or groups. Techniques like using humor or highlighting shared values can help calm conflict or enable reconciliation. 

Example: To address the stress around the pandemic, a governmental agency broadcast this message which was well-received:  

It’s been 38 minutes since we told you to wash your hands and you’ve had your hands all over your germ infested phone reading tweets. Wash your hands, wipe down your phone, and return some TP to the store. And don’t crime.

Goals: De-escalation is an overarching goal of efforts in conflict resolution or transformation [15]. De-escalation is a complex process that overlaps or includes other modes, such as listening.

Invite Sociability

Sometimes it's beneficial to remind people of our connections to each other, such as our common goals for accuracy or shared moral values. These tips emphasize the interpersonal bonds we share.

Goals: In our catalog, norms and other shared values are opportunities to reflect on the social bonds that tie us together. This can include 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 [16]. Some approaches from conflict resolution may also be tagged under this tag.

Share a Story

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 [17].

Goals: Telling a story from one’s personal experience is a way to share values and also to communicate one’s own intentions, which can be helpful in building trust with others.

View All References
[1] Kozyreva, Anastasia, Stephan Lewandowsky, and Ralph Hertwig. 2020.  "Citizens Versus the Internet: Confronting Digital Challenges With Cognitive Tools." Psychological Science in the Public Interest 21 (3): 103-156. https://doi.org/10.1177/1529100620946707. 

[2] Hertwig, Ralph, and Christoph Engel. 2016. "Homo Ignorans: Deliberately Choosing Not to Know." Perspectives on Psychological Science 11 (3): 359-372. https://doi.org/10.1177/17456916166355. 

[3] Adams, Richard E., Joseph A. Boscarino, and Charles R. Figley.2006. "Compassion Fatigue and Psychological Distress Among Social Workers: A Validation Study." American Journal of Orthopsychiatry 76 (1) : 103-108. https://doi.org/10.1037/0002-9432.76.1.103.

[4] Lederach, John Paul. 2003. The Little Book of Conflict Transformation. The Little Books of Justice & Peacebuilding. Intercourse, PA: Good Books.

[5] 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.

[6] Psychology Today. "Empathy." Accessed May 21, 2024. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/basics/empathy#:~:text=Empathy%20is%20the%20ability%20to,establishing%20relationships%20and%20behaving%20compassionately.

[7] 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 (91). https://doi.org/10.1057/s41599-020-00581-0.

[8] Saveski, Martin, Nabeel Gillani, Ann Yuan, Prashanth Vijayaraghavan, and Deb Roy.2021. “Perspective-taking to Reduce Affective Polarization on Social Media.” arXiv:2110.05596 [cs]. https://doi.org/10.48550/arivXv.2110.05596.

[9] Ecker, Ullrich K. H., Stephan Lewandowsky, John Cook, Philipp Schmid, Lisa K. Fazio, Nadia Brashier, Panayiota Kendeou, Emily K. Vraga, and Michelle A. Amazeen.2022. “The Psychological Drivers of Misinformation Belief and Its Resistance to Correction.” Nature Reviews Psychology 1 (1). https://doi.org/10.1038/s44159-021-00006-y.

[10] Axelsson, Carl-Anton Werner; Mona Guath, and Thomas Nygren. 2021. “Learning How to Separate Fake from Real News: Scalable Digital Tutorials Promoting Students’ Civic Online Reasoning.” Future Internet 13 (3) 60. https://doi.org/10.3390/fi13030060. 

[11] A Community Toolkit for Addressing Health Misinformation. Office of the U.S. Surgeon General. 2021. http://surgeongeneral.gov/HealthMisinformation.    

[12] Digital Inquiry Group. "Civic Online Reasoning in the Classroom." YouTube, August 18, 2022. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dcWqPR-O2Fk.

[13] Wineburg Sam, Joel Breakstone, Sarah McGrew, Mark Smith, and Teresa Ortega. 2021 “Lateral Reading on the Open Internet,” https://doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3936112.

[14] Brodsky, Jessica E., Patricia J. Brooks, Donna Scimeca, Ralitsa Todorova, Peter Galati, Michael Batson, Robert Grosso et al. 2021. “Improving college students’ fact-checking strategies through lateral reading instruction in a general education civics course.” Cognitive Research: Principles and Implications 6 (23). https://doi.org/10.1186/s41235-021-00291-4.

[15] 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.

[16] Andı, Simge, and Jesper Akesson. "Nudging Away False News: Evidence from a Social Norms Experiment." 2021. Digital Journalism 9 (1): 106-125. https://doi.org/10.1080/21670811.2020.1847674.

[17] 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. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.nedt.2010.08.001.

[18] Merriam-Webster. "Listen." Accessed May 21, 2024. https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/listen#:~:text=intransitive%20verb-,1,with%20thoughtful%20attention%20%3A%20give%20consideration.