Have you ever come across a flame war? Those strings of inflammatory comments you may have come across on your favorite social media platform at least once in your life? Chances are, nine times out of ten, it probably just started from a harmless comment that expressed an innocuous opinion or asked a simple question.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I know for a fact that internet trolls do exist and they start up fights for the heck of it. Other times, some people just really love debating. Does that mean that you should shy away from a discussion?
No, of course not! Everyone’s got ideas and knowledge. Might be good, might be bad. However, humanity never progressed on silent contemplation alone. Therefore, here are five easy steps that you can take to ensure a (hopefully) civil discussion between you and your pals!
- Know Your Stuff
It goes without saying that in order for one to engage in a discussion, one must have something to offer on the table and that means having the necessary knowledge.Unless if it is a serious academic debate, you can pretty much get by rather smoothly if you can understand what the discussion is about and contributing to the discussion on a topic that you are familiar with. This brings me to my next point:
- Acknowledge the Points Made
When you have found yourself in a topic that you are comfortable, it is inevitable that you will be met with counter-arguments to your arguments. This can be quite frustrating at times but you need to be aware of the points made in the counter-argument. This is important as failure to do so will not only upset the other person but also be seen as an inability on your behalf to argue in an honest fashion because it can be misunderstood as cherry-picking. It is extremely annoying when you’re on the receiving end of non-acknowledged points so do bear that in mind.On the other hand, if you do acknowledge every point made to the best of your abilities–and it does not matter if your rebuttal is rather lackluster–your opponent will appreciate your effort in doing so.
Abide by this simple rule and people will come to respect you even if their stance have been changed after the discussion.
- Attack the argument, not the person
At some point, the discussion that you and your pals have will have a moment of heated debate. It can be quite easy to get stirred up by the agitated atmosphere surrounding you and your pal’s points may begin to sound increasingly stupid the longer he goes on.When this happens, don’t call him an idiot, no matter how true it is. This is because the whole point of having a discussion or debate is to have an exchange of ideas in a way that does not end up in giving each other cuts and bruises–although this does happen when a discussion or debate fails one of these steps or just too intense. Instead, point out the stupidity of his argument. He might still take offence to it but it would hurt a lot less than telling him that he is stupid outright.
Tact matters and how you approach an argument is vital.
- Be Objective
This is something I cannot stress enough because you would think that in this day and age, people would have figured out that opinion is not fact. Even a topic as subjective as music and art can be approached with a lens of objectivity if you know it well enough.By being as objective as you can for the longest you can manage, your arguments will carry more weight than they would should your only point is an anecdote from five years ago.
Also, learn the difference between an educated opinion and a fact. It is a fact that gravity exists, it is an educated opinion to say that it is related to the displacement of a massive object on a spatial plane. It is a good thing to remember that no matter how well-learned you are, there will always be someone smarter than you.
This brings me to my final point.
- Refrain from Appealing to Authority
Society operates with a hierarchical system in the sense that we always have a figure of authority to turn to whether it be for matters of life in general. It can be a professor, it can be a lawyer and it can even be your mother. However, in order for an authority figure to be effective, there has to be someone that acknowledges that authority.This is the problem with backing up your arguments with an appeal to authority as your opponent is most likely not going to acknowledge it. Trying to convince that Catholicism is benevolent to an atheist using only Bible quotes is not going to work at all. Of course, when I say ‘appeal to authority’, it means referring to anything intangible that is perceived to help lend more weight to your argument.
It can be your rank, your title, your seniority or the perceived moral high ground that you think your stance has.
To avoid this, it is good to remember that you are just a human being. You are not perfect and there will always be a better human being than you. In addition, know that there is no clear right or wrong in life. It is impossible to have a definite “moral” stance and vice versa.
Now that you have finished this simple tutorial in discussion, go out there and share your ideas with your pals!
*Disclaimer: This guide is not a definitive guide to winning debates or leading conversations. It is only meant to maintain the civility of a discussion for as long as humanly possible. The author is not liable for any failure to prevent inflammatory comments or the breakdown of a civil talk.