Debate With Kindness: How to Disagree and Still Keep It Civil

With the growth of social media, smartphones, and news outlets, we’re constantly bombarded with contentious topics. From politics to human rights, there’s a lot to think about and discuss, and everyone has a unique perspective. With the increase in news awareness, it has become all too easy to forget to debate with kindness. Sometimes, we need a little reminder to stay civil.

It can be tempting to simply steamroll your way through a conversation — it’s certainly a popular tactic in the media, but it doesn’t lend itself well to positive, thought-provoking dialogue. To debate with kindness and keep yourself mindful, here are some rules of conduct to help you ensure your intellectual debate doesn’t devolve into a verbal brawl:

  1. Listen. Give the other person plenty of time to voice their perspective. When you respond, focus on the topics and ideas they present and avoid allowing bias, stereotypes, or personal prejudice to color your responses.

  2. Take your time. Don’t give into knee-jerk reactions — make sure you fully understand what the other person is saying before you respond.

  3. Ask questions. If you’re having trouble understanding the other person’s perspective, ask them to clarify. This will also encourage back-and-forth so that you aren’t dominating the conversation.

  4. Start with “I.” Use personalized phrases such as “I believe” or “I think” to convey your thoughts. This helps show that you’re speaking for yourself and your beliefs, rather than parroting someone else’s or stating your opinion as a fact or absolute.
  5. Say it back. Before you respond, rephrase and summarize what your companion has said. This will display that you’ve been listening and that you know where they’re coming from, in addition to making sure that you’ve correctly understood their point.
  6. Mind your body. Be aware of your body language — and your companion’s, as well. Eye-rolling, arm-crossing, and hand-clenching can put the other person on the defensive. Also, be aware of the signals your companion is sending you. If they’re leaning away from you, taking steps back, or failing to make eye contact, you’re probably making them uncomfortable.
  7. Tone it down. Just like your body language, the tone and volume of your voice can ruin an otherwise healthy discussion. If you can’t keep your tone neutral, are talking too fast, or raise your voice, then you’re no longer having a civil debate.
  8. Don’t drag it out. Knowing when to walk away from a conversation can be one of your greatest tools. Recognize when you or your companion have become too emotional about the topic and when it’s time to switch to something else — or leave altogether. Knowing when to throw in the towel can save friendships and keep bad feelings from developing.

Most importantly, don’t forget that those on the other side of the conversation are just like you: They have feelings, their intentions are good, and they’re passionate about their beliefs. They deserve your respect, just as you do theirs. By reminding yourself to remain civil and viewing these discussions as learning experiences, you can create a safe environment to share insights and debate with kindness.

Image source: Bigstock