The Limmattaler Zeitung recently published a great article about discussion and dispute culture, with 10 tips compiled by Katja Fischer de Santi. Because conspiracy ideologies and disinformation campaigns threaten to divide our society, we would like to help this article to spread and reproduce it here in the original.

Photo by Photoholgic on Unsplash

The world is more polarised than it has been for a long time. This is also noticeable in discussions on a personal level. With these ten insights, we can get out of this argumentative deadlock.

1 You do not always have to be right

Most people want to be right above all else in a discussion. Practically never works because most people find it very difficult to change their own opinion. We construct our identity from values that need to be defended. A change of opinion shakes your own self-esteem. For David Lanius, however, not arguing about this is not an option. The philosopher is co-founder of the Forum for Controversial Culture. For him it is clear: “We must learn to argue better. His most important advice: “Don’t try to convince, but rather to understand your counterpart”.

2 Ask

Anyone who inquires shows interest. That’s why slogans such as “Women should choose either a career or a child” don’t turn bright red and shout “In which age did you get stuck? It is better to ask “How did you come up with that? This signals a sincere desire to understand the position of the other person. (See tip 1) The most important question for a good debate is: “Why do you think that…?

3 Be curious rather than offended

“The very best reason to enter into a discussion would be to gain cooperative or at least individual knowledge,” says David Lanius. Who says that your opinion is the right one? That you already know all about it? “Be open and curious,” he advises. Genuine interest in the other person and in the topic is the most important basis for a successful discussion, he says. If neither of these are present, then a discussion is usually not worthwhile, says Lanius (see graph on the right).

4 Try to separate opinion and person

Just because someone disagrees with you, he is not a worse person. “We’re pretty bad at bearing dissonance and prefer to surround ourselves with people who agree,” says argumentation trainer Lanius. He says it is possible to reject a point of view without rejecting the person who holds that point of view.

5 Forget facts and especially studies

Never trust a study you have not faked yourself. The persuasiveness of even accurate information and facts should not be overestimated in discussions. “Figures are usually not even noticed and taken note of, but simply ignored, turned around or made to fit,” writes educational scientist Klaus Peter Hufe in his widely distributed workbook “Argumentation training against regulars’ slogans”. It is better to ask questions and make personal references: “Has it ever happened to you that …?

6 Try logic

If facts and figures don’t work, try logic; practically everyone is susceptible to that. For example: “How sure can you be, when you talk about lie press, that you have not been sitting on lies yourself?” Or point out that two prejudices are contradictory: “Foreigners” are said to be lazy and unwilling to work, while at the same time they are accused of taking jobs away from “the Swiss”.

7 Forget stereotypes – even your own

Not everyone who is critical of the state corona measures is a conspiracy theorist, and not everyone who is critical of vaccination is an esoteric. “We often think of others in stereotypes,” says David Lanius. “We bang buzzwords like ‘compulsory vaccination’ or ‘corona denier’ around our ears instead of just listening to ourselves. This is a major problem of Western societies and is fired by populists like Trump or Putin. Fuzzy labels such as “conspiracy theorist” or “racist” often make real discussion impossible because they devalue and insult.

8 Find common ground

Common ground can be found in every conversation and with every counterpart. Most people were or are unsettled by the emergence of the still little researched corona virus. A discussion can be built on this. Perhaps your positions are not as far apart as you thought.

9 Do not teach

“You got it all wrong. Let me explain to you how climate change really works.” Anyone who discusses things in this way is virtually fuelling the escalation. They insult their counterparts and demonstrate higher insight. That rarely comes in handy.

10 De-escalate

In discussions, emotions often boil up. Make sure that your counterpart does not lose face when you criticise. Bring in some humour or irony occasionally and address your own feelings and those of the other person. Say something like “I realise that this subject makes me very angry.” In any case, the important thing is to stay calm. And another tip: Speak softly, this is often more effective than trying to drown others out with volume.

To the article in the Limmattaler Zeitung:

Sources (in German):
www.argumentation training – against the slogans of the regulars’ table
Marshall B. Rosenberg: Non-violent communication

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