How to Disagree With Style

Pick a topic, any topic. No matter how small or insignificant, somewhere on the internet there are two people right at this moment threatening each others' lives, mothers, and sexual orientation over it. Our own community, which should spend enough time online to know how to behave, is no better " every week theres some new SEO drama that gets played out, and it usually starts with a misunderstanding or over a topic that no one sane could give an airborne rodents posterior about.

argumentI like to think I'm a reasonable person. Maybe it's because Im creeping up on 40, or maybe Im just nave, but I don't think anyone needs to die over whether the PS3 is better than the Wii, or whatever Miley Cyrus did last week. It's ok to disagree with people, but there's a big difference between disagreeing and being, for lack of a better word, a douchebag. Here are a few tips for how to disagree with style:

1. Listen and Learn

Ever have somebody verbally disembowel you who obviously didn't even bother to read what you wrote? We're all in a hurry, especially online, but take the time to read what people have to say. Its pretty rare that someone is completely, 100% wrong. Theres a fact that we've sadly forgotten, whether its in our relationships, jobs, or politics: Disagreement is how we learn. Before you tear into a total stranger, stop and ask if theres any truth to what they're saying.

2. Dont Make It Personal

Flame-wars are like road rage " somebody cuts you off, you assume they did it on purpose, you flip them the bird, and pretty soon you're creating your own intro to a CHiPs episode. Most of the time, it's not personal " it's careless, stupid, insensitive, possibly even a mistake. Don't escalate one mistake with another one. Step away from the computer, take a breath, and don't take it personally.

3. Know When to Walk Away

What if it is personal, or someone is deliberately attacking you? There's no denying how nasty the internet can occasionally get. Sometimes, you still need to walk away. Inflammatory personalities love attention, and fighting fire with fire usually just burns down both your houses. If youre a moderator or blog owner, dont be afraid to remove comments that are personally insulting, bigoted, or purposely inflammatory. As Oliver Wendell Holmes said - freedom of speech does not include the right to yell "fire" in a crowded theater.

4. Show Some Respect

Maybe it sounds silly, but why not take the time to be polite? There's such a thing as respectfully disagreeing with people. Instead of starting your comment with: "You're a total idiot, and here's why..." how about something like:

  • "I understand what you're trying to say, but"
  • "Sorry, but I've got to disagree with you on this one."
  • "You make a good point about X, but I've got to argue with Y."

5. Separate Opinion from Fact

Maybe its an American thing, but when did we start to think that all of our opinions were handed down by God Almighty? Think about it: how many things do you really know for sure, and how many are just opinions you have because someone once told you thats how it was? I'm not talking about major, philosophical truths or deeply held beliefs, but the little stuff. Did you scientifically test that SEO practice you just tore someone apart for, or did you just read it on some blog once? Don't be a victim of your own confirmation bias.

There you go " a few strategies for how to play nice online. In closing, let me just say that I own a PS2, Wii, Windows Vista laptop, and an iPhone. If you don't like it, suck on it. 😉

(Photo courtesy of - Photographer: Diego Cervo, Milan)

About the Author: Dr. Peter J. Meyers

Dr. Peter J. Meyers ("Dr. Pete") is the President of User Effect, a cognitive psychologist, and an accidental entrepreneur. In his spare time, he raises a daughter and writes about procrastination at 30GO30.


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