Of course, we are able to use these words if we so choose; it’s a free country. But if we really want to be credible and trusted during a disagreement, if we want to maximize our impact and understanding, we will take caution. These words breed hostility and anxiety.
When we use them, those who might have been sympathetic to our cause may now think we are a jerk.
7. DO: Show You Understand, Even If You Don’t Agree.
We can’t play basketball if we don’t know what actions constitute a violation or a foul, right?
The same is true when we disagree. If we walk into a conversation and don’t take the time to actually listen and understand the nuance of what someone is saying or believing, we are playing the game without understanding the rules. We might say things that don’t make sense or fit the situation, which could mean our participation becomes frustrating or irrelevant.
We might also miss opportunities to make good points that we could have made if we had only paid attention. Everyone wants to be heard, especially in disagreements. Not being heard, or having our words twisted, creates a lot of resentment. So take the time to listen.
And after we’ve listened, then make a point to reflect—literally, and out loud. Let them know that we listened:
- “So if I understand you correctly…”
- “It seems like you are saying __, is that accurate?”
- “Can I summarize what I’m understanding so far?”
8. DON’T: Use Sarcasm And Refrain From Speaking In Sound Bites.
Sarcasm, especially sarcasm in online conversations, can be particularly risky for discourse because we can’t always hear or accurately interpret auditory tone. It can be hard to know when someone is being facetious.
Try to say exactly what you mean and don’t crack jokes at someone’s expense. Remember, your long-term relationship with that person is more important than the present conversation. If you want to be influential with them, if you want to stay in community with them, you will seek to use direct language that doesn’t leave room for misinterpretation.
In addition to refraining from sarcasm, take the time to spell out a longer response or explanation instead of trying to use sound bites that can be taken the wrong way or seen as cocky. If the conversation matters to you, take the time to patiently spell it out.
All of this said, using humor to lighten the mood can be helpful when things start getting too intense. But use caution if you are talking about a serious topic where people have experienced pain. In such a case, humor will more than likely come across as insensitive.
9. DON’T: Be Condescending.
Nobody likes a know-it-all.
Even if you’re dripping in academic knowledge, even if you can talk circles around someone, you will alienate them the minute you act superior. Having more knowledge than someone else does not make you a better person. Note that we’re not talking about confidence, here.
Confidence is important. Ultimately, being condescending is about control: seeking to control or force someone to agree with us and implying that if they don’t, they’re bad or stupid.
How do we stop being condescending? Here are a few ideas:
- Put an end to explaining things people may already know, interrupting, acting as if you are the final authority, or being incredulous that someone doesn’t know something
- If you’re writing to someone, read your draft out loud and take a good, long look at your tone
- Ask someone else to read it and to give their honest opinion.
- Admit the possibility that you could be wrong or lack information. Recognize your limits. Qualify your ideas with “I-speak” statements like, “the way I see it,” “in my experience,” “in my research,” or “in my opinion.”