Tips for discussing Conspiracy Theories with family and friends who believe them

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DENVER (KDVR) — As the pandemic rages on and the presidential election remains in limbo, local health experts believe unfounded conspiracy theories about both topics is taking a toll on Coloradans.

Chances are you have friends or family members who have been sharing or discussing misinformation; especially over social media.

When it comes to discussing unfounded conspiracy theories with family members, Denver-area experts suggest the following advice:

Whether it’s an Aunt or an Uncle who believe in false claims, professionals at UCHealth and the Mental Health Center of Denver both agree, you should approach them with ‘cautious curiosity’.

That means you’re curious where they’re coming from, but you’re doing so while remaining in a stance of, ‘we can agree to disagree’.

“Being curious would be something like, ‘Oh what’s the source in which you’re drawing your information from? What websites are you looking at? Which papers are you using for your information,?” said Andrea Lawrence, a licensed clinical social worker with UCHealth.

Asking questions shows interest, according to experts.

Professionals advise you never want to dismiss someone’s beliefs or insult them (like calling them ‘crazy’). That could send the conversation into a bad place.

“I think if you can sort of set a boundary, like: “Okay, I’ve heard your perspective – thank you so much – I am still looking into where my beliefs are coming from. I’d be happy to share where I’ve been getting my information from,” Lawrence said.

Denver area mental health experts also suggest you discuss a family member’s beliefs or theories with them privately; not around others.

It’s also a good idea to approach each conversation with an open mind and careful dialogue.

“Making sure I don’t have any accusation or judgment in my voice, remain calm, stick to ‘I’ statements. Well, ‘I feel this’ as opposed to, ‘Well, you believe this’?! When you say ‘you’ a lot in your sentencing it sounds accusatory and then people can get defensive as a result,” said Dr. Jody Ryan, the Chief Medical Officer at the Mental Health Center of Denver.

If the conversation turns nasty, experts say you should know when to walk away.

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