Educate or Argue? How To Know When To Let An Online Disagreement Go

Photo by Christina Morillo

As influencers and thought leaders, we spend a good deal of our time online. We love to engage with our communities and invite new people into our digital spaces. But when our influence takes the form of advocacy and allyship, everyone we encounter online won’t agree.

Just as Laura Ingraham took it upon herself to tell NBA All-Star Lebron James to “shut up and dribble,” there will be those who come to your platforms to tell you why your advocacy is wrong.

There are five things you need to know to maintain your composure and decide how to proceed when you are faced with disagreements online.

Know What You Want

Do you truly know what you want to get out of this discussion? Is it something you want for a specific moment or do you have a long term desire? You can’t get what you want if you don’t know what it is. Figure out what you really want.

Once you know what you want, set a goal for the interaction and write it down. I can hear you thinking this seems like a ton to do just to refute someone on Facebook. But let me tell you why it’s important.

When you find yourself agitated in a tense conversation your body can quickly enter “fight or flight” mode. When that happens, your brain begins to filter out anything that isn’t used to protect what your body is feeling at that moment.

Your thinking slows down and you may easily become distracted from your original point. The goal you had to educate your audience can quickly become an argument that helps no one.

It helps to stay on track when you choose a goal and write it down.

Know Who You Are

Do you know who you are? Not in relation to your community, your job, or even this person challenging you online. Do you know who you are from the inside out?

Questions to ask yourself to truly know and acknowledge who you are:
What do I value?
What do I believe?
What have I experienced? How has that shaped my view?
What are my triggers? How do I respond to them?

When you know who you are, you can predict interactions and anticipate how the conversation might go. You will also be better able to develop coping skills when you are triggered and decide if it’s time to walk away.

Know Who They Are

As complex a person as you may be, the person you are dealing with – be it a follower, a friend, or a family member – is equally complex. Consider who they are and how that can help direct and predict interactions.

We have all seen conversations descend into the abyss of blamestorming, name-calling, and gaslighting. We even gave it a name: keyboard warriors. It happens when the people in the conversation are triggered and are responding emotionally; it is very difficult to de-escalate once it begins.

Knowing who the other person is can help you make the choice to educate, argue, or back away. Obviously, it’s not always possible to know who you are dealing with in the digital world. The next step is an important consideration when you’re interacting with a complete stranger.

Know Your Responsibility

I have to admit, this is the hardest one to follow. Especially when you are advocating for basic human rights. Decide what your responsibility is and to whom you owe it. It can seem futile to continue an argument with someone whose values and beliefs oppose yours.

And your personal responsibility is just that – personal. Never give more effort than is needed and become upset when it’s not returned. Never give less than the minimum and be offended if it’s not appreciated. You are not abandoning the cause if you find that you’ve exceeded your responsibility and choose to back away from the conversation. Self-care (LINK to SELF CARE POST) is a necessary aspect of making the decision to let it go.

You must choose which relationship – the one you’re defending or the one you’re debating – is worth your time and effort and where your personal responsibility lies. When you know this, you’ll easily be able to decide to engage or let it go.

Know Your Obstacles</h2
Now that you know what you want, know who you are, know who they are, and know your responsibility it will be easier to identify obstacles.

Questions to consider as you examine your obstacles:
What will keep me from achieving my goal?
What about me will get in the way of this conversation?
What is it about the other person that will keep them from hearing me?
What is my responsibility and to whom?

And this is the time for us to be both truthful and honest with ourselves. I believe when it comes to communication, truth is about facts and honesty is about feelings. While the facts may be in your favor, if your feelings cannot support the facts, it’s time to walk away.

Your mental and emotional health is primary in this process of advocacy and allyship. Knowing when and how to protect your peace and pace yourself in the fight is vital.

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