I love to debate. It’s a bit of a sport to me. I’m always respectful, whether online, or in face to face interactions. However, not everyone else seems to play by these rules, and I often watch debates devolve into ad hominems (personal attacks) and angry outbursts…. especially in an online environment. It’s important for us to remember that there’s a person on the other side of the screen. A living, breathing person. A person that has feelings. A person that can either be joyously uplifted or profoundly harmed by online interactions with other living, breathing people. Sometimes the elaborate network of wires, circuits, and screens of our technology interacts with the network of neurons and synapses of our brains and bodies in a way that makes us forget the humanity of the person on the other side. To complicate matters even further, there are “bots” and complex algorithms and other “not people” interacting with our own very human neurological systems in a way that fires up the limbic system and elicits emotional responses. It can be rough terrain to navigate. Here are a few tips:
· Recognize and affirm your feelings, but choose your behavior wisely. It’s easy to let emotional reasoning take over. If you can recognize and affirm the emotion that you are feeling, you can then push the metaphorical “pause” button and think about what you are going to write or say, rather than just firing off something that you didn’t really mean
· Pick your battles. You’re not going to solve all of the world’s problems in an online debate. Sometimes the debate isn’t worth the stress or the time that it takes away from you. Other times, it may be an important relationship that can grow through respectful conflict management.
· Don’t feed the trolls. Some folks don’t really have much “skin in the game” but love to stir up trouble. These debates aren’t typically worth your time.
· Remember the basic principles of positive behavior support and utilize appropriate conflict resolution techniques. The goal is to grow, not necessarily “win”. If all parties involved in the conflict grow, then they all win.
· Relationships can actually become stronger in conflict. If the conflicted parties treat each other with respect, relationships may grow.
· Take breaks from the conflict if needed. Sometimes it is important to allow things to cool down before re-engaging.
· Be able to recognize and understand basic logical fallacies and cognitive errors.
· Recognize that before you can address logical fallacies and cognitive errors, you must first address feelings.
· Remember that what ends up online can come back to haunt you later. Think twice before hitting send.
· Realize that in close relationships, sometimes it is important to choose a different channel. Group chats, social media, and email are very useful channels of communication, but sometimes the message is best delivered face to face, as long as it is safe.
· Above all, remember that there is another human being on the other side of the screen. Act with empathy, compassion, and respect.
John Windsor – Director Technical Curricula