I thought perhaps we could discuss what role language can play in a debate/discussion and how that may shape how it's interpreted and transmitted. Moreover, what language can we use that can help keep the discussion or debate healthy and how we may actually come to learn and respect each other’s differing views without resorting to cruelty, frustration or anger. I came up with three questions we can ask ourselves before getting involved in an online discussion:
- Is it crucial that this person agree with my point?
- Do I care and am I genuinely interested in learning more about their point of view?
- Will this discussion enhance open dialogue, education, tolerance and mutual respect?
If you feel after asking yourself some of these questions, that yes you would like to continue the discussion or debate, then how can we, collectively, create a safer and more reflective space to examine how we feel about the topic?
ASK OPEN ENDED QUESTIONS
What I like about open ended questions, is that it encourages either party to examine and reflect on their own values and beliefs around the issue that they are discussing. This can help us to reflect on why we may feel a certain way. Through this self-examination, either side can either continue to stand by their beliefs or they may very well change how they feel. So instead of defending their point they can learn more about the other person’s beliefs and views. When we are being defensive it tends to encourage more defensiveness and neither side is usually willing to budge. Here are some examples below of open and closed ended questions:
OPEN ENDED: "I hear what you are saying. So what are your thoughts on how this could be handled better?
ClOSED ENDED: "Are you really going to stick to that belief?
OPEN ENDED: "Why do you suppose that is?”
ClOSED ENDED: “Oh come on. Are you serious!?”
I'm just giving some vague examples but hopefully you get the gist. Open ended questions tend to invite dialogue and closed ended questions can shut the conversation down or worse, turn it into an explosive debate with no end in sight. So using sentences like; Can you elaborate, Can you share your thoughts on this? What are you concerns? Can really help shift the conversation towards a more solution and less of a defensive based discussion.
Language is also important to consider when having a potentially heated conversation online. We may even be able to defuse an argument with a tiny shift in how we word our words. So here are a couple of suggestions;
-Swear or use derogatory, inflammatory words even if the other person does.
- Don’t put the person down and attack how they look, how they feel or their level of intelligence
- Ask open ended questions to better understand their point
- Use words and sentences like;
”I appreciate you sharing your view”
"I validate how you must be feeling, I don't agree but I appreciate you being so open in sharing your thoughts on this.”
Language is key in order for us to benefit fully from the interaction. Now in saying that, we do not, under ANY circumstances deserve to be yelled at, insulted, harassed or bullied for our views and values online. But we can minimize the potential of becoming a target by not matching the abusers language or tactics. We may even learn something from them! It's important to also set healthy boundaries so that if you don't wish to continue in the discussion and can feel yourself becoming agitated or uneasy then it's important to step away. This may need to be done through a polite end to the conversation or if they won't respect your boundaries, then you may need to block and report. When in doubt or if you need extra support, you can reach out to trained advisors here at Cybersmile 24/7 by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
Do you have any further suggestions or comments on the above? What do you think may or may not work best when it comes down to language and how we engage in discussions or debates online?