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How to Have a Productive, Respectful Discussion

Use these tips when you converse with peers, colleagues, or coworkers.

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No matter what profession you're pursuing, you are bound to have a discussion with a group of people at some point. While you are free to express your ideas in a thoughtful, creative way, there are some rules you and your peers should abide by in order to have a progressive discussion. Respect is key. Everyone must maintain a respectful nature for the entirety of the discussion. If you're a student, teacher, or an employee please read through this list and feel free to share any of these tips with your colleagues the next time you engage in a discussion.

1. The group should come to consensus about ground rules before you participate in what will hopefully be an eye-opening, fun, and productive conversation.

You have every right to have an opinion and abide by it throughout the duration of the discussion. However, when you disagree with someone's opinion or if they disagree with yours, remember that it's not an attack on the person but rather the opinion. Don't take it personally. If everyone did, the world would be (even more) chaotic. We don't want anyone thinking that a particular person has a grudge or is disrespecting the actual person who voiced their opinion. 

2. Anger (to an extent) is valid but check yourself before you say something that will spiral out of control.

Inevitably, people get angry or upset upon hearing certain statements; however, it is important to express discontent within limits. Project your opinion in a manner that conveys your point concisely, clearly, and respectfully. "With all due respect" is a great statement to start off with when disagreeing with someone.

3. Make sure you are attentive throughout the discussion.

Whether it be the person who spoke before you or the person who spoke two turns ago, it's always good to refer to what other people have communicated. This depicts that you are truly engaged in the conversation and are aware of others' perspectives on the topic. For instance, you can say something like: "Person A said x and y. I agree with part x but not so much part y because of insert reason." 

4. Be conscious of the environment you are situated in.

Some discussions are completely open with minimal rules. It is a free space to express different views on the most controversial discussions. For example, in my education class, the professor established that we are in an open space and that we are allowed to discuss emotionally heavy and taboo topics as well. If someone experienced triggers or felt disrespected, they were allowed to step out. 

However, don't forget to be respectful of other people's emotions and take into consideration their backgrounds as well. For instance, if you are discussing race or sexuality for a college discussion section, you should be wary of others' presence. Trigger warnings should be issued at the beginning in order to make everyone feel accepted, involved, and comfortable. 

5. Opinions, ideas, and thoughts are great.

However, try to support them with sufficient evidence. The logos and ethos that the evidence provides is a substantial supplement to the pathos of the viewpoint expressed. You don't need statistics readily available all the time, but make sure the source of your information is credible and available to those who are interested in exploring the idea further. 

The Overall Takeaway...

Everyone should feel comfortable and heard. There are many ways to have productive discussions and hopefully by following these tips, you and your peers will gain a lot from communicating with each other in a healthy, respectful way. With certain current events occurring in the world and certain situations rising regarding race, terrorism, sexuality, etc. there lies a web of opinions wanting to be unraveled. 

Each person is subject to their own mentality and in times like these, it is tough to stay objective. In order to maintain objectivity and a respectful, safe atmosphere, it is vital to remain composed. Don't get too caught up in others' opinions. There will more likely than not, be times where you will want to strongly disagree with others' statements. Do so. Differing opinions are welcome, if not encouraged, as they are what ignites and fuels the conversation. 

However, if heads are still butting, then simply just convey your point, back it up with concrete evidence, and agree to disagree knowing that you put forth critical thinking and gave it your best. Just keep one thing in mind: respect goes a long way.

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How to Have a Productive, Respectful Discussion
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