In a perfect world, facts would be important to everyone. We do not live in a perfect world. We live in a strange and reactionary place where facts can often be brushed aside as opinion or seen as offensive.
So how the heck are we ever supposed to let anyone know when they're factually incorrect without being seen as major jerks? Honestly, we probably don't. Even the most innocent and well-intentioned fact check has the potential to truly hurt and offend.
Still, reddit user Gallon-O-milk asked a question we all want to know the answer to:
There are some really useful tips and tricks here, we will admit. But we're also not in the business of lying to our readers, so we're going to be honest. If a person is prone to being offended, then no matter how politely or tactfully you say something it's going to happen. They're going to think you're rude. They're going to dislike or dismiss what you say.
Just make sure you're braced for it if it happens. Choose your battles wisely. Prepare to be side-eyed.
Treat them as good-faith actors. They're not trying to be wrong... They believe what they're saying. Ask questions.
"I didn't know that. Can you explain it a bit more?" Then when you have a natural opportunity, say something like "I always thought... "
I Believe You, But...
At work as a foremen we use the phrase "trust, but verify" I believe you but it's my job on the line.
Yup, aircraft maintenance is the same way.
"I trust that's correct, but I need to verify. So if anything goes wrong we've both had eyes on it."
Us vs The Problem
Avoid telling people they are wrong and avoid telling them, "No, ...". People want two things: to feel heard and like they belong. Telling someone they are wrong doesn't accomplish either.
Provide evidence for a counterpoint and let them draw their own conclusions. You aren't trying to tear them down, you're working with them to find a solution to a problem. It just so happens that the evidence you have found supports a different solution than theirs. The minute you view it as me vs them and not us vs the problem you will have already failed.
This Nurse's Method
I once heard a visitor to the hospital where I worked make some outlandish claim, and a nurse simply responded pleasantly "It sounds like you need more information!"
Choose your battles. Fact checks may be okay once a week, but not like twice a day.
Walk away without "convincing" the other person. If you get argumentative, they'll often double down. My sweetest fact checks pay off hours, days, or even weeks later: "You know, I looked that up, and it turns out you were ..."
Just Play Dumb
Say, "Oh, really? I haven't heard that. Where did you read it?"
You disarm them by admitting you weren't aware of something they supposedly are, and ask them for a source. From there it can be easy to figure out if their source is a blog or scientific study, or whatever.
I use this often. Generally Instead of offering an alternative viewpoint or facts of my own I simply keep asking question like I'm genuinely interested and uninformed; anxious to know more. Also if they make a number of false claims it's important to simply ask 1 question at a time. That essentially forces them to fact-check themselves and justify their viewpoint without giving them any options in terms of which questions of yours to answer.
Most of the time they'll at least come away with the realization that they don't know all the details or that their sources are sketchy, and hopefully will ask more questions themselves next time they're confronted with bad information. Which is a win in my book. And hey, if it turns out that I'm the one who's actually wrong, I also didn't go around making incorrect claims through this process.
The biggest draw-back to this strategy though is that this doesn't usually work in online discussions with other people trying to "help" you because they inevitably sandbag the process by asking too many questions at once, adding condescending facts of their own, and/or getting frustrated and aggravating the person you're trying to debate, at which point, everybody loses.
Missing Some Information
I had a student swear that her mom was a doctor and she became one because she knew somebody. I could NOT let her drop that and have other students believe that shit. I stated that there isn't a doctor in this country that hasn't gone to college and medical school. She insisted. After a couple of back and forths, I just finished it with 'I think we're missing some information'. Best line I ever used.
Turns out, her mom was an ultrasound tech for a doctor.
In The Most Polite Way
I was backpacking through Yosemite last week and was just corrected in the most polite way. We were looking out over an amazing view and I thought something was half dome. A nice English fella then said "I'll be honest with you, I don't think that is quite correct."
Realized I was wrong immediately, and then thanked him for correcting me. Really seemed effective, on me anyway.
If I'm openly disagreeing with someone, after a minute I just go, "Duh! We can Google this!" It adds humor to the situation and implies either could be right.
Knowing When It's Important
Not always possible. Some people are offended by facts and data, and that's not an exaggeration. The real trick is knowing when it's important to fact-check and when it's not.
If my parents assert that only citrus fruits produce citric acid, I'm just going to nod my head
If my parents start telling me crime is through the roof and it's all black people's fault, I'm going to wiki empirical data to prove them wrong.
If they want to be mad at me for not taking their word at face value, even after they've been shown contradictory data from a reputable source, that's their prerogative. I've done nothing wrong.
It's on me at that point to recognize and stand by my personal values. I can't force immature people (even if they're my senior age-wise) to not "feel offended" for being presented a fact.
If you find yourself getting into debates with people who are like that, you should probably just tell them that if they're going to be offended by fact-checking that either they should check the facts themselves (then they can "offend" themselves so you don't have to) and then report them to you... OR they should accept your rebuttal without arguing because they're aware you're willing to look into the facts but you are also willing to refrain out of consideration for their (illogical) emotions, so long as they don't assert correctitude without proof.
Anyone who insists they're right but refuses to look at evidence is forcing you into an emotional battle in which you're tasked with overcoming their poorly-conceived yet deeply-held personal opinions, rather than an objective discussion using logic and reasoning to determine the truth. They have already made themselves "the jerk" at that point, even if people in their tribe feel similarly.