Assume responsibility for your role in a dialogue. Do what you
can to improve the process. (As good as it may feel for the moment, resentfully
criticizing others for communication breakdowns doesn't help and often
accelerates a downward spiral.)
Bring up and then address one issue at a time.
Remain positive and give the other person the benefit of the doubt.
For example, if you suspect they may be using a sarcastic tone, assume the
Respond only to the constructive content of a message. Ignore, when
possible, sarcasm, innuendo, name-calling, etc. (It's usually possible). This
helps avoid escalation.
Avoid accusations, especially overgeneralized ones, such as: "You
never...", You always...", "Why can't you...?", "I can't believe you said
Say "Please," "Thank you," "I apologize," "Great idea!," etc.,
generously. These words are the lubricants of communication especially "I
Before criticizing a position, consider feeding it back to the person
advancing it, to confirm you've understood it.
Do not label the individual you're speaking with, e.g., "You're a
troll," "You're intolerant," "...disrespectful," "...oblivious,"
"...obnoxious," etc. This rarely helps and often makes matters worse.
Similarly, calling their arguments stupid, destructive, "I can't believe you
said that," etc. is poor technique.
Keep in mind that "agreeing to disagree" is usually a fine option when
stuck in a communication rut. There's often no right or wrong in our
disagreements. Differing opinions may rest on different styles, proclivities,
or comfort levels.
If you wish someone to communicate more constructively, offer a
specific suggestion and begin it with "I prefer..." For example, "I prefer you
not call me intolerant. Rather, please cite specifically what I said that you
If you feel the process is breaking down, discuss this with the other
person. Collaboratively work to improve it by focusing on future behavioral
change, rather than by assigning blame for past communication difficulties.
State negative feelings in a positive way by stating the other's best
self, e.g., "I know you're a tolerant person," or "You often have excellent
ideas." Then let them know you feel they're not living up to their usual high
If you're communicating by computer, consider moving to the telephone
should communication get stalled.
Give positive feedback, praise, appreciation, "atta boys" wherever
Preface constructive criticism with positive feedback.
If disengaging is a viable option with someone who seems generally
angry and negativistic, politely end the dialogue. Alternatively, consider
suggesting ending it for continuation at a future date, when one (or both of
you) will have had a chance to collect your thoughts and calm down.
Keep in mind that everyone is a free agent with free will,
consequently you can't force anyone to understand or agree with you, no matter
how self-evident your view seems to you.
Remind othersand yourselfof our common goal: to build a
free society. Consequently, collaboration, rather than one-upmanship, is