I made this list so that everybody can start working on the way they participate in discussions. Normally, people on my blog are not in need of such basic advice, but sometimes folks come by who have very poor debating skills but who are unaware of how worthless they make themselves as discussion partners.
So here are some suggestions as to how one can become a better discussion partner:
1. Try to read or listen to what people are saying carefully. Then think about what they said. And only then respond.
2. If a comment confuses you, don’t protect yourself by rolling out some stock response. Ask questions. Try to link the comment to its context.
3. Lecture less and ask more. Unless people have specifically solicited your opinion on a subject, don’t lecture them about it. It antagonizes people every single time.
4. Avoid triviality. When you say self-evident things in a pompous long-winded manner, people do not tend to respond well. They think you are suggesting they are idiots.
5. If people exhibit an emotional response to your words, you need to make an attempt to understand the nature and the vector of their affect.
6. Avoid the “It is, too” discussion strategy because it’s childish. A discussion is supposed to progress. If you respond to every argument from your opponent with the same statement, you will soon start sounding like a petulant 2-year-old. Either try to take your arguments further or abandon them if they are failing to convince. Simply repeating something will not convince anybody of anything.
7. Try to be tactful. Don’t lecture autistics on autism, Jews on anti-semitism, gays on homophobia, blacks on racism, and women on gynecological visits unless you are autistic, Jewish, gay, black, or female. Doing this makes you sound like a douche of major proportions. It doesn’t matter if you read an article on autism. That didn’t make you an expert overnight.
8. Avoid retelling to people what you think they said. Avoid “so are you saying. . .” as much as possible. Either quote the exact words you are responding to or simply ask your discussion partner to clarify what s/he said.
9. Stop assuming and start asking.
10. And the most important rule: People don’t normally choose to engage in activities if they get nothing out of them. Ask yourself, “what it is that I offer to others as a discussion partner?” A hint: if your answer is “I’m educating them about. . .”, you are probably really bad at debating. Now ask yourself again, “What it is that I offer to others that they actually want? How do I know that they want this?”
Of course, if your one and only goal is to antagonize people and make them avoid you (which is quite a worthy goal and one I can understand very well), then feel free to disregard this advice. In all other situations, take it to heart.
I have participated in discussions both online and in RL that have literally transformed my life. My discussion partners have enriched me in ways they probably are not even aware of. But it only happened because I allowed myself to be reached by new information and different points of view.
Happy discussion times, everybody!
P.S. Feel free to add if I missed anything.