Do you find debates on social media edifying and worthwhile? Do you recommend them to everyone? Want to have one right now?
If you answered “No” to the above questions, you’re not alone. Engaging in debates on social media platforms can be painful, and they often feel like a waste of time or worse—you fail to change anyone’s mind, and you end up hating life just a smidge.
But, it doesn’t have to be that way. Keep reading to learn three benefits of debates on social media and four tips for getting the most out of them.
3 Benefits of Debates on Social Media
Often, people run headlong into debates on social media because they expect to brilliantly convince people of their superior point of view. However, the likelihood of changing someone’s mind in a social media debate is about the same as the chances of lightning striking a purple carrot during a solar eclipse. If you aim to convince someone else of your point of view, you probably won’t get very far, very often. That’s not necessarily an assessment of your argument skills; it’s just the way it is.
If your goal is to change someone’s mind, social media debates will seem pointless. However, if you go into them with different goals in mind, you’ll come out a winner every time. Try this: Aim to clarify and articulate your views, understand other views better, and understand people better—and you’ll never lose.
Let’s take a look at each of these three benefits of debates on social media (or anywhere).
Benefit #1: Clarify and Articulate Your Views
When you engage in social media debates, you get a chance to explain your viewpoints and the reasons you have them. Take this for the golden opportunity it is. Holding a thought in your head and a feeling in your heart isn’t the same as articulating your experience, observations, knowledge, perspective, and reasons.
When you have to put your thoughts and feelings into words that someone else will understand, you bring more clarity to yourself if not others, as well. This process helps you identify any gaps in your knowledge or logic.
As you engage in discussion and get responses to your views, you discover whether you’re understood and whether you’re persuasive. You find out what questions you have yet to answer, and you get experience with responding to challenges. That’s a valuable skill.
You might end up becoming even more convinced of your position or realizing that you need to adjust it or go back to the drawing board. Either way, that’s valuable.
Benefit #2: Understand Other Views Better
As you engage in an exchange of views, sharing your ideas isn’t necessarily the best part. Another benefit of debates on social media is that you get to learn other perspectives, information, arguments, and approaches. That’s gold.
Online discussions about issues such as climate change, education policy, capital punishment, and space exploration are bound to include at least some factual information. Chances are, you’ll learn something you didn’t know before.
Sincerely seek to understand other views. In Difficult Conversations, Douglas Stone, Bruce Patton, and Sheila Heen offer extensive advice for listening to another person in order to understand where they’re coming from. For example, they suggest asking genuine questions with the goal of learning, paraphrasing the other person’s viewpoint to check your comprehension, and acknowledging the other person’s feelings.
Humility comes in handy when taking advantage of this benefit of debates. You don’t know everything, and you’re not always right, right? This attitude will help you get more out of social media debates. However, be sure to balance that attitude with a spoonful of skepticism. Verify information before accepting it as true. Well-meaning people can get their facts wrong. Sadly, there are also those who don’t mean well.
Benefit #3: Understand People Better
Charlie thinks that clowns are terrifying because he read Stephen King’s It when he was a teenager. Pat thinks that clowns are lovable because she has fond memories of them from childhood.
Tristan thinks that business tax rates should be lower because more jobs would be created as a result. Agatha thinks that gun control laws should be stricter because her sister was shot and killed five years ago. Diego doesn’t believe in God because he believes that science indicates that there’s no necessity for a creator.
In addition to understanding other views better, you’ll get a better grasp on people—what they care about and why. This refers to psychology in a general sense—getting to know what makes people tick. It also refers to individual people—getting to know a particular person on a deeper level.
In The Great Mental Models Vol. 2, Rhiannon Beaubien and Shane Parrish write that, if you disagree with someone, try to figure out why they see things that way. Doing so can expand your horizons, improve your relationship with the other person, and cause them to reciprocate by taking your perspective into account.
Best-selling author Malcolm Gladwell, in his book Talking to Strangers, cautions that there’s no perfect strategy for interpreting a person’s thoughts and intentions. Be careful and attentive when conversing with people, especially people you don’t know well. Don’t jump to conclusions about someone based on thin evidence.
The more experience you get with social media debates, the more knowledgeable and skilled you’ll be in regard to people. Do it well, and your emotional intelligence will go up!
Reap Benefits From a Safe Distance
When it comes to benefits #2 and #3, you don’t even have to wade into the potentially shark-infested waters of social media debates by adding your viewpoint. Rather than comment, you can just read. You can learn new information and get a glimpse into the minds and hearts of people you know and people you don’t know.
4 Tips for Engaging in Social Media Debates
Let’s look at four tips for engaging in social media debates: define “victory” wisely, practice classical tolerance, leverage your emotions rather than let them get the best of you, and stand corrected when needed.
Tip #1: Define “Victory” as “Progress”
Philosopher of science Karl Popper said that “the aim of argument should not be victory but progress.” But, that depends on how you define “victory.” What if you define “victory” as “progress”?
It’s tempting to think that you win a debate if you change someone’s mind and convince them of your way of thinking. Taking the above benefits of debate into account, rethink what it means to win. If you clarify and articulate your views, understand other views better, and understand people better, you win. You benefit. You come out ahead.
It’s important to note that you’re not necessarily coming out ahead of your debate opponent. That’s not the most constructive way to think about it. Here are the most meaningful elements to evaluate:
- Your understanding of the issue and its various arguments
- The soundness of your argument
- The effectiveness of your communication
- Your understanding of your opponent (why they believe what they believe)
- The way you handle yourself
- The way you treat your opponent
For these elements, do a “How it started / How it’s going (How it went)” comparison. Do you see progress? If so, celebrate your victory.
Tip #2: Practice Classical Tolerance
Classical tolerance is egalitarianism toward people and elitism toward ideas. It’s regarding people as equals while recognizing that some ideas are better than others.
Classical tolerance requires distinguishing between a person and their ideas. Let’s say that Saul, your social media debate opponent, believes that tacos are terrible. If you practice classical tolerance, you will respect Saul but regard his idea as the worst ever. Saul’s idea is idiotic, but Saul isn’t an idiot.
Classical tolerance takes practice. Whenever you say or think that someone is stupid or bad, catch yourself and reframe it: It’s their idea that’s stupid or bad. (Over time, you’ll even come up with more constructive ways to think and talk about their ideas!)
Tip #3: Leverage Your Emotions
You choose to engage in a particular debate on social media because you care about the issue. That means that you have emotions tied up with it. Your emotions can help or harm your argument.
Emotions help your argument when they allow you to speak from your heart. Imagine a woman whose sister was murdered engaging in a social media debate about parole policies. Her justified sadness and anger can bring authenticity and gravity to the discussion as well as elicit compassion from her opponent.
Emotions harm your argument when they muddle your logic. Sometimes your emotions are so strong, you can’t think clearly. Stop and think: Are you expressing facts and reasons or just feelings?
Emotions harm your argument when they cause you to lash out. Remember classical tolerance here. If you’re angry about an injustice that you perceive, great. If you’re angry at your opponent, step back. Check yourself: Are you angry about something, or are you angry at someone? Anger about something is likely to be constructive; anger at someone is likely to be destructive.
In her book Radical Candor, Kim Scott explains that people sometimes reach a point in debate where they’re too tired—physically, mentally, or emotionally—to contribute productively. Debate can turn into petty bickering or worse. She advises that you take a break when you realize you’re not making progress. When you engage in debates on social media, you can step away any time you want to. Take advantage of that luxury.
Remember that emotions can help or harm a debate. With practice, you can leverage your emotions rather than allow them to get the best of you.
Tip #4: Stand Corrected
When you participate in social media debates, you’re liable to be wrong sometimes. This is true for everyone. It’s not because you’re stupid; it’s because you’re human. So, don’t let your ego get in the way of admitting when you’re wrong. As appropriate, stand corrected.
When you admit that you’re wrong—and that they’re right—you win respect points. That’s a huge advantage in social media debates. Denial of your wrongness pushes people away; owning your wrongness draws people in and opens them up to you and perhaps even your ideas.
When you see the benefits of debates on social media, and when you’re better equipped to take advantage of these benefits, the debates don’t seem so daunting and nauseating. Now that you know how to come out as a winner every time, go for it. A whole new world awaits you.