You should know how to disagree well

by Josh Brahm

As online debate becomes more and more common I’ve been observing how hard it is for two people to have an effective dialogue without being face-to-face. (Not that all face-to-face debates go well either!) I want to offer several dialogue tips to help you have more effective dialogues in any medium. (Warning: The embedded image in this post contains very mild language, and the article I’m linking to has language as well.)

It’s not always easy to tell why a given online exchange goes badly. Sometimes it just feels like nothing is being accomplished, even if the debaters aren’t antagonistic toward each other.

I think sometimes this is because online debaters are too direct with each other. A significant portion of communication happens nonverbally, and that is all lost online. In my experience, you need to add some niceties and hefty doses of common ground to keep an online dialogue from ending with people just getting angry at each other.

But sometimes something else gets in the way, and I think most of the time, one or both people are not disagreeing well. I stumbled upon a wonderful essay by Paul Graham on different ways to disagree with people, in their order of effectiveness. You should read the entire essay, (language warning,) but I’ll summarize it here.

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Graham says there is a “disagreement hierarchy” with seven levels, which he illustrates with this pyramid:


The bottom levels are the most common, especially on places like YouTube where commenters just scream (or type in ALL CAPS) at each other, and the top level is the most effective.

I think I see people simply contradicting each other the most often. Instead of responding to the persons argument, they lazily reply by restating what the opposite view is…

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Dialogue Tip: You Should Know How to Disagree Well – Josh Brahm



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