- Stay Calm
If you can only remember to do one thing when you’re in a heated discussion, stay calm.
First, you need to take the time to assess and understand that situation. How sheepish would you feel if you came out, guns a-blazing, only to find out that you wholly misunderstood the other person. (You know what they say about making assumptions…)
Second, the minute you start to lose your cool you hand over all the power to the opposing party. Think back to any conversation you’ve had where the other person loses their composure; you stop taking them seriously because they can’t control themselves. Furthermore, if you’re a woman and get upset, at the very least you risk being labeled ‘emotional’ and possibly ‘a crazy pyscho bitch’. Don’t give them that option.
This label isn’t fair, of course, but becoming upset will solve nothing. It may give you a moment of relief for letting out your emotions, or maybe a feeling of accomplishment for your witty (rude) retort, but in the end it will simply undermine your reputation and diminish your credibility.
So the next time someone gets your blood pumping, take a minute and take a breath. Worst case, walk away, but never lose your cool.
- Ask Questions
Ask questions, ask questions, ask questions. It is only once you do this then can you begin to grasp the other person’s point of view. This is the most important part of any discussion; otherwise it’s just two people yelling words in close proximity. Besides, you can only get someone on your page, if you know on which page he or she is starting.
Furthermore, when you do this, you can often catch someone in his or her own ignorance. The more questions you ask, the more the person must critically think about his or her beliefs. Not so shockingly, this is often the first time they do so.
- Speak About Your Feelings
People cannot argue with feelings. They may try to rebut what you say, but they cannot argue how you feel. Feelings are felt, regardless of what anyone else tells you. Feelings are irrefutable.
If you are discussing street harassment and someone makes the age-old declaration, “you should take it as a compliment”, tell him or her that you feel threatened/upset/angry/scared when a strange man comments on your appearance, propositions you, or invades your personal space. They may want you to view the situation one way, but when you tell them how you feel, they can’t legitimately argue that. Even when they reply, “don’t be so dramatic”, you both know that it’s a last ditch effort.
- Reference Personal Experiences
Another thing that cannot be refuted is a personal experience. When you share a personal experience, not only are you opening up to the other person (which can often allow them to be more open, honest and vulnerable), you also provide them with a subjective perspective to which they will hopefully try to relate.
If you share when your elementary school gym teacher wouldn’t let you play boys versus girls dodge ball because “there’s no way the girls would ever win, so what’s the point”, maybe he or she will admit people often underestimate women. Or when you recount the story of your best friend who got passed up for a promotion because she was ‘much more emotional’ than her male counterpart, perhaps the person will gain an awareness to the professional biases that hinder women from advancement.
- Stick To The Matter At Hand
Though it’s good to share personal experience, make sure you don’t get caught up in tangent arguments. Personal experiences can humanize a widespread issue and help someone to see it from a different perspective, but be wary of getting caught in a vortex of irrelevance.
If you are discussing campus rape and the other party brings up intoxication, don’t get trapped into discussing whether 0.7 or 0.2 or 1.3 are acceptable levels of intoxication for rape to occur. Rather, share that drinking does not invalidate a rape, and a woman should not have to stay sober in order to stay vigilant against rapists.
Though it’s tempting to veer off on specific people or situations when the other individual brings up these points, try to stick to the bigger picture. Keep the conversation at the macro-level, taking an aerial view on the issue. When you start delving into specific people, places or situations, you lose sight of the original debate and get caught up in academic or irrelevant things.
Furthermore, if you get sidetracked, you give people an opportunity to personally attack you. (“Ya, well you are just a drunk party girl then!”) People will almost always take this opportunity, because it’s always easier to call names and/or put someone down, rather than discuss facts, societal trends, and past experiences.