How to disagree agreeably

Last night’s blogger and politics conference was everything I had hoped for: An opportunity to meet with local bloggers and politicians and to get to know them better, especially while hanging out afterward at J.K. O’Donnell’s.

But the evening had its low point. Moderator Nathan Gotsch played gotcha with a local blogger during Gotsch’s 40-minute opening speech.

The blogger, Dan Turkette, had been invited to participate in the evening’s panel discussion because of his involvement with the recent election. But first, Gotsch treated Turkette and the audience to a surprising amount of direct criticism of Turkette’s blog. The audience did not universally consider the speech to be classy.

Turkette left in the middle of Gotsch’s speech.

What should we remember in these situations where we meet opponents face-to-face? Here are a few things to consider:

Don’t sandbag your opponent. Here’s a definition from Wikipedia:

to “sandbag” is to intentionally understate one’s strength, with the intention of deceiving one’s opponents into overreaching. The sandbagger can then reveal a hidden strength to take the opponent by surprise.

If you have a strong argument, you don’t have to set up your opponent unfairly like Gotsch did to Turkette. Giving your opponent an opportunity to respond also shows that you have a modicum of respect for him.

Don’t bait and switch. Not every problem requires one of those big secret set-up interventions. Don’t turn a party into a venue to win that argument with your uncle. If you must disagree with someone, try straight talking first, without the fake set-up.

Don’t be anonymous. I understand some people have a desire to use a pseudonym, but Biblically, anonymous accusations have zero weight. Use your name if you want to be taken seriously.

Don’t assume you have more friends than you do. This error encourages you to take a battle to a public setting, who may not appreciate being dragged into it.

Don’t assume you have more enemies than you do. This only causes you to lash out at possible allies, alienating those who may actually agree with you.

Don’t take private sins public. A lot of people love to see celebrity secrets dished for all to see. And there’s a temptation to bring that philosophy down to the local level. Don’t. Go to the person first, as Matthew 18 instructs us.

If we’re going to be neighbors on the blogosphere — and in real life, too — then we need to much more carefully weigh our words. Being professional online means nothing if we can’t be professional in person.

photo by Marlon Hammes on Flickr