26 Apr

8 tips for productive online discussions

by Jaclyn levy

Ditch the drama online with these 8 simple tips!

In the last week I’ve seen 3 different people lash out on social media to those who voiced a different opinion than theirs instead of choosing to have a productive online discussion. One was a celebrity, one was an artist, and one was a friend. Lately, I’ve seen the sentiment, if you don’t like what someone says then don’t say anything and “keep scrolling.”

Is that really the answer?

Are we really to just shy away from conversing with others with different viewpoints than ours? To me this doesn’t sound wise or like progress for society. However, lashing out on people is not the solution either.  So, in order to help navigate the weird, often dark, waters of the internet (especially for vegans who can be easily targeted online) I put together a handy guide on how to tactfully disagree and have a productive online discussion with others as sometimes it’s easy to forget that there are real people, with real emotions, on the other side of the screen.

As you continue to read this guide, keep in mind that this is written by someone who loves to play the devil’s advocate. With that being said, I have learned a thing or two about voicing my (often bold) opinion online.  I’m not a professional by any means, but I am simply writing from my own experience with the goal of helping others to have meaningful and productive conversations – a form of paying forward nonetheless.

productive online debates 8 tips for productive online discussions

The Basics

  1. No name calling: We learn this rule from an early age in school but for some reason forget it once behind the comfort of our computer. No matter the temptation, do not call someone bad names; this includes refraining from calling someone a “liberal” or a “conservative,” with the intent to use those words as insults – just don’t go there. It’s rude and takes the focus away from the discussion at hand.
  2. Avoid use ALL CAPS: If it isn’t nice to yell at someone you disagree with in person, then it isn’t nice to yell at someone online. No one has changed their mind after being yelled at. It only creates resentment.
  3. No cursing: This should be obvious. Like name calling, cursing only distracts from the discussion at hand and quite frankly it’s not classy.

Negotiation Tactics

  1. Be rational & fact-based: Wherever possible, take emotion out of the discussion and keep a level head. Stick to the facts by siting trustworthy sources to back up your claims – trust me – this will give you a lot of credibility! By keeping a high standard for your argument it will force the other person to do the same.
  2. Be willing to listen with the intent of understanding the other person’s view point:  You don’t have to agree with someone to truly listen and understand where they are coming from. Everyone wants their voice to be heard, so hear them out. More likely than not then they’ll do the same for you.
  3. Admit when you agree:  Even if you both have different stances on an issue it’s often possible to find common ground. A vegan and a carnivore might both agree changes need to be made to our food system. If you agree with one of their comments or points, say so. It makes them more willing to hear your thoughts and find common ground when you show them the same courtesy.

Know when to call it quits

  1. If you need to, walk away: You don’t lose if you walk away. You save yourself from the downward spiral of a potentially irrational conversation that goes nowhere and helps no one, plus the anxiety that inevitably follows. Channel Princess Elsa and “let it go, let it go”.
  2. Reflect: I believe in God and have had some really insightful debates with an atheist friend of mine. I love talking with her on a deeper level. In the end, she’s still an atheist and I’m still a believer in God and that is okay. However, we’ve learned a lot more about each other and can respect the other person’s opinions.

I hope this better equips you to become less afraid of disagreeing online and therefore having productive discussions. It’s healthy to be able to talk through disagreements, debate meaningfully, and come out the other side unscathed and better informed.

Let me know in the comments section what tips you would add to this list!

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