If you write things that matter, you will eventually
enrage engage people who disagree with you. They’ll leave angry comments, venomous emails, or even start full on flame wars. They want to fight with your ideas (or maybe just with you). So how do you win the fight when all your followers are watching? How do you defend your carefully thought out position? Like this.
1. Argue, don’t fight.
A fight is two or more people trying to defeat the opponent (and that’s meant as a friendly term). An argument is a conclusion and the reasons you came to that conclusion. The first way to win an argument is to be clear with your opponent that you’re only interested in an argument, not a fight. Nobody wins if it devolves into a fight.
2. Only argue about what matters.
Not all arguments are worth engaging. If you write something that matters, trolls will find you, and they’ll try to pull you in all kinds of directions. Identify what’s worth engaging before you respond. It’ll save many a headache.
2. Attack the idea, not the person.
If you can’t tell the difference, don’t engage those who disagree.
3. Know what you’re talking about.
There’s nothing more disheartening to see than an author you enjoy reading give a point you agree with, only to have his backside handed to him by an angry commenter who schools him on the facts of the matter. Don’t be that guy. It’s embarrassing for you, your followers, and more importantly, your cause.
Know what you’re saying before you go public with it. This rings especially true when writing or blogging about hot-button issues like politics, religion, or the most volatile of all, children.
4. Don’t chase rabbits.
Often the disagreeing party will bring up many related, though non-essential points. They may even say things that are clearly untrue. Leave them alone. You can’t clean up all the lose ends, and you shouldn’t try to. Take it from someone who used to try. Stick to your main point, and only address comments relevant to that main point.
5. Seek understanding before agreement.
You almost definitely won’t agree after an online debate (which is fine, because that’s rarely the goal anyway), but you can and should walk away from an argument with both people (and more importantly, all your readers) understanding the each person’s point of view.
6. No straw men allowed.
Do not, under any circumstances, misrepresent the other person’s view. Regardless of their actions, you must have the integrity to deal with what they believe, not what you THINK they believe, or what “those people” believe. This requires you listen to what they think and the reasons for it.
7. Ask questions.
Telling someone they’re wrong is almost never well received. Showing them they’re wrong, only slightly more so. When they discover it for themselves, that changes minds. And the best way to do that is to learn to ask good questions. One of the best and most basic: “Why do you believe that?”
8. Accept correction.
If you get your facts wrong, say so. Nobody is persuaded by somebody whose just defending turf. You’ll come out looking far more reasonable and persuasive if you admit error and move on rather than defending something you have just found out is wrong.
9. Seek truth.
Go where the evidence leads, even if it’s not where you want it to go. Be open to other points of view, just as you want others to be open to yours. If they make a good point, acknowledge it. Tell them you see their point. You can even add, “I just don’t find it compelling.” That’s a fair response.
10. Deal with what’s said, not what’s inferred.
Many times when engaging opposing viewpoints online, your opponent will paint you a certain color. If you make a pro-abortion statement, you’re automatically an Liberal Atheist. If the other party hasn’t divulged those details, assuming so is off limits because ultimately you don’t know where they stand. It’s fine to find out, but only if it furthers the discussion, and is relevant to the main point being discussed.
11. Have the last word.
The overwhelming majority of the time, when I stick to the above guidelines, my opponent excuses themselves from the conversation, generally without announcing they’ve done so (they get mad and leave). It can be tempting to taunt, or leave one final biting comment. But we’re not 12 years old anymore, are we?
Take this time to summarize the points made. Restate your point, and as accurately and graciously as you understand it, restate your opponent’s points as well. Leave the audience to decide who made a stronger case. Even if they don’t agree with you, they’ll respect the way you went about it. And respect is not something easily earned online.