How to Disagree in Discussions and Debates

Is it possible to have healthy, polite and respectful debates? Can we have productive discussions and an exchange of ideas, opinions and differing beliefs which would lead to people learning from each other? I decided to look further into this topic and see if the experts have any advice or suggestions.

Online event host and producer Warwick Merry says:

It’s official, we have lost the art of polite debate.

The evidence is littered across the pages of Facebook, scattered in the comments on YouTube videos and evident in any of our recent vision of political discussions.

There are two impediments to our ability to debate politely:
1) Our Target and 2) Our Beliefs.

In his 2008 essay,  How to Disagree, computer scientist Paul Graham proposed a concept called Hierarchy of Disagreement. This hierarchy comprises seven levels of dissent; from low-quality forms of disagreement to the highest-quality ones.

 Hierarchy of Disagreement

(Image source: Wikipedia)

To have a constructive disagreement, one’s argument should be on the higher levels of the pyramid: Refuting the Central Point, Refutation, Counterargument.

The lower levels of dissent—Contradiction, Responding to Tone, Ad Hominem and Name-calling—are fallacious arguments and should best be avoided.

Warwick Merry offers the following tips:

Attack the subject and not the person. Even if you think the other person is wrong, even if you don’t think they deserve it, treat them with courtesy.

Base your argument on proven facts. Opinions are great but some are wildly inaccurate and damaging. Facts will always serve you well.

Be passionate about your position. Facts alone won’t do it but be careful not to be blinded by passion.

Be willing to be wrong. If you are not willing to even consider the opposing view point, how can you hope for your opposition to be open to your perspective.

Listen to what is being communicated. If you are unable to listen, your debates has just become a shouting match.

Don’t let your beliefs stop you from seeing the truth. The facts and truth have a power to them that beliefs never will. Sometimes you need to get out of your own road.

Let it go. Sometimes there are debates you will never be able to take part in (let alone win). These are the ones you have to walk away from. Adding fuel to the flame will only build a bigger fire and risk you getting burnt. Choose your debates wisely.

Aaron Bouren, an entrepreneur, trend forecaster, talent scout, and customer-focused business builder shares this advice:

The ability to agree to disagree means being able to acknowledge and accept that someone else has a different perspective or belief, without feeling the need to change their mind or convince them to see things your way. It also means being able to have a conversation or debate without it devolving into personal attacks or insults. It is important to remember that just because someone disagrees with you, it does not make them wrong or bad.

For additional information on this subject, check this article:
Graham’s Hierarchy of Disagreement: How to Argue Like an Expert


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3 Responses to How to Disagree in Discussions and Debates

  1. kaysee kaysee says:

    The Art Of Thoughtful Disagreement

    Maintaining our objectivity during disputes is critical. Without objectivity, we’re likely to get swept up in emotions and assume that our position is right simply because it feels right. This can lead to disastrous consequences, such as a compromise or even conflict escalation.

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  2. kaysee kaysee says:

    Commonly attributed to Aristotle, but it has been filed as one of the Famous Misquotations. Aristotle never said it or wrote it…. according to Alexander Atkins.

    But it is a quote that fits in with this subject and worth a ponder.

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  3. kaysee kaysee says:

    One of the areas of my news-hunting is on US politics. I do a quick scan through sites that in the past I used to consider Conservative, but not anymore. They are now all on the Trump-is-god/Maga wagon and their bias is quite obvious. They black-out the news they consider unsuitable and promote the stories that push their cause.

    Through a slow sifting process, I have been able to find some good accounts on twitter where there are intelligent, well-informed people whose posts are worth reading. These are true Conservatives and America First. And DeSantis supporters. Over there, I see news that differs from what I see on MSM and Con Inc Media.

    Sometimes there will be an Opening Post that is discussing some policy or issue. It is quite educative to read various opinions and views. Then suddenly, there will be a response like:
    Don’t care. Still voting Trump.

    Or there will be some coming in to accuse the posters there of not caring about America, about being butt-hurt because DeSantis did not win, or they even indulge in name-calling.

    They come in a disrupt a serious conversation. There is no desire to listen and learn from another point of view. If they discover a discussion somewhere on twitter that is critical of Trump or in support of DeSantis, they will land there to troll or obstruct rational discussions.

    The Aristotle comment above:
    It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it
    is about being able to consider a viewpoint that differs from our own. To listen to it and hold it in our mind, evaluate its merits or failings, and then decide whether to dismiss it or investigate it further.

    I have been learning far more from some of these posters who are just regular folk. They are not paid “influencers” or media personalities. They are just worried about their country and doing their best to battle against the lies being spread not just by the MSM, but more so by MAGA and Con Inc Media.

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