Public Forums 101 – Debate; Don’t Debase

Fight!I’ve always enjoyed a good debate. I’m talking about elbows to the table, brows wrinkled with thought, finger-pointing and all. Since I have maintained friendships over the years, there is obviously some decorum displayed. Still, I find a good debate to be healthy and I always respect someone who not only has a point and defends it, but can do so with flair as well as passion.

When it comes to online forums, though, decorum is lacking. Are the same people online who will slice through others’ opinions like a Ginsu knife through a tomato as relentless with their friends and colleagues? Is it assumed that because we are online we don’t have to demonstrate the same comradery we would in person?

Let me share some valuable information.

There’s no such thing as one-on-one – If you have to click *post*, *submit*, or *send*, it’s not a conversation between A and B anymore. Just last week I rejoined a group and discovered a discussion I’d posted 9 months ago, still receiving comments. If you have no concern for the impression others might have of you after your heated comments, by all means care not and post on. If you do, then think well beforehand.

Ask questions More than once discussions I’ve posted have received bitter comments and I’m always glad when they do. I am genuine when I say that. It lends me the opportunity to demonstrate my finesse handling even the toughest critics. Even though I’ve never considered it a strategy, my natural curiosity always leads me to ask questions and that works well.

In one group months ago a gentleman tore into me about comments I made in a discussion. I responded firmly, stating my strong views and then left him with a couple questions. He responded, then I did, and back and forth we went. However, at the end we were joking with each other, sharing quips and quotes, we both acknowledged each other’s good points and exchanged a few private messages to boot. By asking him questions, I left the door open for further communication instead of shutting him down with a “that’s that!!” stance.

I hate to admit my nonchalance, but I don’t care if I make a friend. What I do care about is that we will both be seen as people who can passionately defend our points of view, respect each other’s disagreement and leave the conversation politely.

Don’t be right – When I make a statement, I do absolutely believe I’m right, but I accept that I may be swayed by a good argument. Even if not, I remain open to new ideas even while I support my own.

Don’t think you have nothing to lose – You may have checked the profile of the person you’re about to rip into to find he’s *just* a college student, *only* a secretary, or way out somewhere you never expect you’ll meet. None of that matters. The spirit and tone with which you communicate with others may be viewed by a future employer, business partner, friend or even a client. No one’s going to email you and tell you, “You know I was going to do business with you but after that nasty standoff I witnessed I’ve changed my mind.” You will never know what opportunities you’ve lost. We must be more than headshots and pretty profiles. Degrees and accolades mean nothing if we are less than a pleasure to deal with.

Witnessing a great debate is much like watching a flower bloom. You know how at first the bud is tight and unrelenting? Then it opens up and relaxes and it’s lovely. Same thing. I have a point, it’s a good point and I’ll show you! Oh . . . you have a good point, too. You’re not a bad guy, I like your style. Wanna have lunch? Same thing.

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