I’ve been thinking a great deal lately about the “debates” going in our world. Unfortunately, it increasingly appears less about enlightened and reasoned conversations that make us all better, and more about personal pride and unyielding rants. While there should be encouragement from leadership to keep the discussion civil, it seems that more-often-than-not, leaders appear to be fueling the rage. I believe some do this for personal advantage while others are simply too immature to play well with others.
With the state of our culture weighing heavily on my heart and mind, I thought it might be a good time for a little refresher on ways we can express ourselves without being a jerk. By the way, these points apply to in-person conversations, social-media and other forms of communication. They also assume that your goal is truth and not simply arguing just to argue. If you just want to rant, I can’t help you.
Recognize that major issues and arguments are seldom resolved in a day. If you really want to win over hearts and minds of the people you engage, you need to resolve yourself to be in it for the long haul. If you are only interested in “hit-and-runs,” you are likely to have little impact on people or the culture in which you live.
Do not simply assume after a few words that you know the point your conversation partner is trying to make. It is very easy to jump to conclusions based on a few key words or your past experiences. Give the other person the opportunity to make his/her point without interrupting. Show genuine interest and remember that people are more important than points.
Ask questions to clarify the other person’s position. If there is something you did not understand or that particularly caught your attention ask them for more information. Do not assume that they intended it the way you understood it. By asking questions you not only get important details, you give them an opportunity to think back through what they said and correct anything that may not have been worded exactly as they intended.
When asking questions, don’t interrogate them like a witness in court. Your goal is not to get a lot of “yes” or “no” answers, your goal is to make your partner consider his/her position more deeply. Ask open questions that call for an explanation.
A great way to further clarify the other person’s position is to say, “So, what I heard you say was…” If you get something wrong or if they said something in a less-than-eloquent manor, it gives them an opportunity to set the record straight.
If you perceive holes in your partner’s logic or don’t believe that they are being consistent in their statements, try probing instead of attacking. Ask questions such as, “How do you reconcile the apparent disconnect between this and that?” or “Is this particular point consistent with your belief that you spoke of in the other part of your conversation.” This will cause them to think more deeply about their point far better than yelling your point at them.
Work with your conversation partner to process through the the logical outcomes of their position. Ask them how they believe other people and even society would be affected if their view was implemented or continued.
Appeal to higher authority. Use scripture, precedent, experiences etc. In an effort to help your partner see another viewpoint that is not limited to just your beliefs. This approach is only helpful of course, if your partner believes in the higher authority.
If your partner is a a quick responder, take a pause. Try to resist the urge to fire back with reasons as to why they are wrong. Some people will defend themselves immediately but later realize that your question was a very good one. By giving them time to think about it, they are less likely to entrench in their position and stop listening.
Resign yourself to the important reality that not everyone is going to believe like you no matter what you do. Take what you can from the exchange. If there are areas where you need to change your position, be mature enough to admit it. If there are areas where you still believe strongly but failed to articulate it well during the conversation, look for ways to sure up your footing for the next time.
What suggestions would you add to this list?