In my line of work I’m constantly looking at what people are saying to each other. It’s one of the simultaneously enlightening and often aggravating things about my job. Whether or not people agree with what someone is saying, I’ve found that people are a lot more receptive to their idea when these three things are avoided.
Absolutes are absolutely aggravating. If you have to resort to an impossible, convoluted or extreme scenario to make a point, most commenters agree that you’re standing on thin ice. Quite simply, there will always be exceptions to the rule — but that doesn’t necessarily mean someone’s premise is bad.
The worst is when you get two commenters who do this in the same discussion. Their back-and-forth can quickly spiral outward and drown out the more reasonable dialogue going on.
Not citing your sources
“What’s your source?” “Who said that?” “Where did you get that statistic?”
Commenters will halt a conversation when someone throws out a statistic or the result of a study without including the link or source. Always make sure to provide attribution to your information. If you can’t, try to find it — usually a Google search will do. If you come up empty-handed, avoid sharing the information at all.
Speaking of sources, make sure it’s a good one. If the source could appear partisan, people will quickly discredit it. The best sources are neutral and impartial groups. If you don’t know the way a source leans on a particular topic, a look at the source’s homepage or Wikipedia entry will usually give you a good idea. If you know what sources your opponent trusts, try to find information to back up your point from that source.
Name-calling and personal attacks
This is the quickest way to either end a conversation or turn it into a shouting match. Simply put: don’t do it. Your debate is about the topic at hand, not your opponent.