Best Practices for Posting in Debates or Contentious Conversations

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See Also: Code of Conduct | Policies | Forum Welcome & Information

Discussion and debate on different aspects of Brandon's books are a key aspect of the 17th Shard Community.  Hearing different viewpoints, and debating divergent interpretations of text of WoBs or character interpretations can be a lot of fun, and it is important to make spaces for all viewpoints to be heard.  

That being said, most of us probably know the feeling when Nergaoul seems to seep into our minds and make us see red.  Sometimes we post without carefully considering how our words might impact the person whose opinion or interpretation we are critiquing, or the discussion as a whole.  While the passion of a good debate can be part of the fun, it is important to treat all members with respect so that the discussion can continue to be enjoyable for everyone.  

Here are some strategies that can be kept in mind when venturing into contentious topics.  We hope they will assist in keeping discourse respectful and preventing conflict from escalating.  The following are suggested strategies or best practices, not rigid rules.  They are meant to assist posters in crafting their own posts in an effective and respectful manner, and not for policing others.    There will be a range between a failure to meet these suggestions and content which requires moderation.  Please do not use the following to belittle or shame other posters who are not using these methods: everyone is going to have their own style of discourse, and may have alternate ways of keeping things respectful.   Not all will be well suited or recommended for every situation, but hopefully the consideration and selective implementation of the following suggestions will help to improve discourse on the Shard. 

(1) Assume the Best of People - One of the disadvantages of text based discourse is the lack of tone and the inability of participants to read each other's emotional responses in the moment.  It is easy to take someone's words in a way that was not intended, or to continue posting without realizing the impact your own words are having on others.  One strategy to avoid escalation in this context is, if a single post seems overly aggressive or hurtful, try to give the poster the benefit of the doubt.  If possible, read the post in the best possible light, and respond to that.  If you continue to perceive an issue with future posts, you may wish to use some other strategies to politely point out the issue to the other person, or get the staff involved.  If it is an isolated incidence of unintentionally offensive phrasing, simply continuing with the discussion the poster intended can be a great way of continuing a debate without stoking a fire.  Instances of repeated or blatant disrespect should always be reported, but most posters are here to talk about books they are excited about, not to insult or demean people.  You may also wish to take a look at the user’s other posts on the forum.  Whether they are a new user who is less experienced, a frequent fighter, or a user who normally seems to be polite and considerate, can inform how you respond.

(2)   Acknowledge Expressed Opinions Before Stating Your Own - If you feel like someone is repeating the same point over and over and preventing the discussion from progressing, it may be that, rightly or wrongly, that person is not feeling heard.  While it can get repetitive if overused, a simple "So what you're saying is [X].  My perspective on that is [Y] and [Z]" can go a long way in pushing a conversation forward.   Another strategy is to ask questions: "That's interesting.  How does [A] fit into that?  I think . . ."  It is also possible you are missing what the person is trying to say, and taking a close look may help you notice the mistake.  

(3) Summarize, then Move On - Conversely, you may be feeling like you are continually repeating yourself, but the other posters are ignoring or missing your points.  Instead of typing out the same points in different words, try to rereading your previous posts, summarizing your points in a succinct manner, and then asking questions of the group to encourage discussion.  Remember that people are not obligated to respond to your points, and it may be that other people are just not interested in responding.  If this happens even after you summarize your points and ask directive questions, that is probably a sign it is time to move on.  Before responding next, reread your previous points, and try to avoid retreading old ground in your next post.  

(4) Threads are Not a Contest - When posting in contentious topics, try to think about why you are posting.  Before typing out an entire post about why you are correct and others are wrong, try to see if your point has been made before by others.  If it has, and some posters have not been convinced, it might be useful to ask yourself what you are hoping to add to the conversation.  At the end of the day, we all have differing opinions.  Threads where room is provided for all opinions should be viewed as successful.  If some people, or even most people, have viewpoints that differ form your own, that is okay and should not be viewed as a failure to make yourself heard to convince the other side of your correctness.  If you have a new point to add to the discussion or debate, then add it, but if your point has been made try to avoid repeating yourself or others solely for the purpose of convincing people.  It is not necessary for every thread to end in an agreement.  

(5) State Your Own Opinions, not Others - No matter how nonsensical they seem, people are entitled to their own opinion.  If you vehemently disagree with something, want to share your perspective, but are worried about coming across as confrontational or rude, a good strategy is to use language which signals you are expressing your own opinion, and avoid language that is aggressive or attacking.  For example:  "I do not agree that is [C], because of [D], and I feel that [E] contradicts that interpretation" instead of "That is not correct.   is obviously not [C].  How can you not acknowledge [D] and [E]?"  Both statements express a differing opinion.  The former attempts to provide critique and rebuttal from the perspective of the replying poster.  The latter calls the original poster's perspective into question, and may be likely to put the original poster on the defensive.  A general rule is, where possible, rephrase to use "I" instead of "you".

(6) Stick to the Facts - Using objective evidence is a good way to keep debates moving forward, and to try to lessen the effect of heightened emotions.  One of the things that makes theorizing in the Cosmere Fandom fun is that there are objective answers out there for some of our questions.  Educating each other on the information that is out there is part of good discourse.  When refuting theories with WoBs or passages from the books, try to be considerate in doing so.  We have all been in the situation of having a favourite theory be shot down by an explicit passage from the books or WoB.  The fact that someone was not aware of a particular fact before posting does not make them a bad Sharder.  When posting WoBs or passages from the books, try reading your post over and thinking about how you would feel if you were debunking one of your own theories.  When someone else is posting a WoB or book passage that debunks your point of view, try giving them the benefit of the doubt.  They are likely trying to be helpful by providing information, and do not intend a personal attack.  

(7) Take a Break - If you are seeing red, it may be time to close out of the topic for a bit.  Take a break from the topic until you feel a little more calm, and then return to reread the posts again to see if you interpret them differently.  Another option can be to type up a response without posting it, leave it for a couple minutes, and then come back and edit it for tone.  

As a reminder, this list is not exhaustive, and all seven points will not be appropriate in every situation.  Hopefully they provide some assistance, and, with your help and cooperation, make the Shard a more cordial place.


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