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We’re living in a time of angry conversations, especially on social media. Any social media platform you go to, there are people passionately expressing their views and posting links to articles on subjects that they care about.

If you’re only having conversations on social media with people who feel the same way as you do, the conversations are probably civil. They may be passionate and blunt, but you’re not attacking each other.

But if you and the other person don’t agree, especially if the topic is politics, conversations quickly degrade into insults, ad hominem attacks, and lordly assertions that “I’m done, have a nice day!”

It is possible to have civil conversations on social media, even about politics. Assuming that you want to; you may have enough on your mind and on your plate already. But if you do, here are five steps to having a civil conversation.

Five steps for having civil conversations

Here are five steps for having civil conversations on social media with people you disagree with.

1) Ask for information.

If someone says something on social media that you disagree with, ask them for more information. For example, I recently saw a comment on Facebook where someone had harsh words for former President Obama. In particular, he said that Mr. Obama created ISIS.

Now, I happen to not agree about that, but I was curious about why he thought it was true. So I asked him, “What makes you think Mr. Obama created ISIS?”

I could also have said, “I’m curious, could you say more about why you think Mr. Obama created ISIS?” Or, “What did Mr. Obama do that, in your opinion, created ISIS?”

When you ask for information from someone, you avoid a nasty conversation because you’re asking a neutral question. You’re not attacking or insulting them.

2) Declare your allegiance.

If you feel the opposite way as the person you’re questioning does, say so immediately. After typing my question to that man on Facebook about why he thought Mr. Obama created ISIS, I added, “Just so you know, I don’t think he did.”

You could also say, “I think ISIS would have gotten stronger no matter what Mr. Obama did,” or, “FYI, I think the Syrian regime is responsible,” or whatever you think.

When you declare your allegiance, you let the other person know that you’re not laying traps for them. You’re being upfront that you have a different opinion.

3) Promise that you’ll be civil.

Assure the other person that you want to have a civil conversation, and you’ll listen to what they have to say.

In my question of the person who thought that Mr. Obama created ISIS, I said, “I’m not going to attack you, I just want to know.”

You could also say something like, “I won’t argue,” Or, “Not trying to start a fight here, but genuinely curious.”

Doing this makes it more likely that the other person will respond candidly and respectfully.

4) Be curious.

When you read the other person’s explanation of, for example, what makes them think that Mr. Obama created ISIS, just be curious. Try not to mentally argue with them, or start thinking of scornful or attacking things to say in response. Just be curious about their opinion.

One way to do this is to ask yourself, how could what they’re saying be true? How do they see the world? How do they interpret Mr. Obama’s actions?

This is the part of this process where you actually start to understand their perspective. You may never agree with it, but you’ll be less baffled about why they think what they do.

5) Thank them.

When they’ve answered your question, thank them.

When ISIS guy posted about why he believed Mr. Obama had created ISIS, and I’d read his post and asked some questions, I posted, “Thank you, I appreciate your time.”

You could also say, “Thanks for having a civil conversation about this, “, Or “Great dialogue.”

This ends the conversation graciously and respectfully. The other person will likely thank you, too; they probably appreciate a civil conversation on the subject just as much as you do. In fact, the man on Facebook thanked me for having a civil conversation with him before I did.

Yes, you can have civil conversations on social media

It is possible to have civil conversations on social media. It isn’t easy, people are often so vitriolic. But if you ask for information, declare your allegiance, promise to be civil, be curious, and thank them, you can have a civil conversation on social media with someone you disagree with.

Photo credit: © 2010 Christopher Brown, CC BY 2.0.

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