ChangeMyView is unique in that it offers a set of ground rules for debating, which include explaining the reasoning behind your view and not being hostile to fellow commenters. But you can adopt these rules in your own interactions, and Dr. Tan said that empathy — trying to understand where the other person’s opinion comes from — was one of the most important tips for effectively arguing online.
“Many places do not provide an easy way to do this in a noncombative way,” he said. “If the other party can explain why they hold a particular opinion, it will establish common ground for the conversation.” In practice, this might mean explaining the reasoning behind your own view or asking someone else for theirs in order to truly understand why they think the way they do.
Stop if you’re in a bad mood
Before you hit send, take a second to check your emotional state.
“When in a bad mood, refrain from posting,” Dr. Leskovec suggested. “Breathe in and breathe out.” He added that it’s important to stop when you can see that the argument has become toxic, because it will only get worse from there. “Prevent downward spirals. Don’t participate in toxic discussions. Nothing good will come out of it,” he said.
Take your time
“We’re in a society where we don’t take time to look at the other person,” Mr. Ribble said. “And too often it’s about speed — how quickly I can get something posted — without considering who that other person is.”
In his book, Mr. Ribble recommends a four-part process: Stop and take a breath before posting anything, think about whether what you’re saying is true and helpful, empathize with the person on the other end, and finally, post if you’ve gone through that process and deem your comment appropriate.
Pay attention to language
In Dr. Tan’s study, researchers found that the subtle ways in which language was used had a big effect on the argument. “For example, in many situations, directly quoting another person may not be the best way to change her opinion,” Dr. Tan said. “This might happen because directly quoting someone’s exact words might be perceived as nitpicking on their wording rather than empathizing with her whole view.”
If you notice the person you’re debating uses “we” instead of “I” to discuss an opinion, that could be a sign that he or she is less open-minded. “Individualizing one’s relationship with a belief using first-person pronouns affirms the self, while first-person plurals can indicate a diluted sense of group responsibility for the view,” Dr. Tan said. In other words, it’s easier to change one person’s mind than the minds of an entire group; so when someone uses “we,” it could be a subtle, unconscious way of putting up a barrier against your argument, in which case, it’s probably best to move on.
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