4 Unexpected Ways To Make The Best Of Powerful Online Discussions

Joel Lee 12-05-2014

The Internet is a den of trolls Why The Internet Provides A Thriving Environment For Hate & Trolling [Opinion] Aidan Dwyer entered and won a science competition. What happened next is something that those of us that have been on the Internet for a long time now would not find very surprising. The story... Read More , a place where critical thinking and deep conversation is often rare and unwanted. Fortunately, there are places where you can find serious discussions that are well-moderated and more meaningful than the usual drivel. When you encounter such threads, how can you make the most of them?


Looking past the memes and jokes and shallow talk of the mainstream Internet, it’s clear that polite and insightful dialogue can be useful for networking, developing relationships, encouraging thought, and engaging with audiences. Does that sound like something you’d like?

Here’s what you should keep in mind the next time you enter an online discussion to prevent it from spiraling down into the realm of logical fallacies The MakeUseOf Toolkit Against Online Trolls [Part 1] How many Internet arguments have you witnessed? Or better yet, how many Internet arguments have you participated in? I visit a number of forums and communities on a daily basis, and I see arguments all... Read More and troll fodder 4 Types of Blog Comments That Make You Look Like a Troll One of the most fascinating things about writing professionally on the Internet for nearly a decade now is the progression of "commenting" that has evolved alongside the blogosphere. I was first introduced to the whole... Read More .

Be Helpful and Build Up


What is the number one rule of fruitful online discussions? Maintain a positive attitude.

I’m not talking about the kind of new age, self-help, “you can do anything if you put your mind to it” nonsense that tends to steer towards delusional territory. I’m not talking about putting on a fake smile and pretending to be customer service to those in your dialogue. A lack of authenticity does not bode well for healthy conversation.


I’m talking about common courtesy (not very common these days) and genuine politeness (also not very common on the Internet). Throw away your arrogance, your condescension, and your snark. Don’t forget that there are real people on the other side of those comments and posts.

You’d be surprised how much more fruit can be borne from a discussion where everyone respects each other.

Ask Open-Ended Questions


If you want to provoke more vibrant conversation, ask open-ended questions that dig into the topic at hand.


Shallow questions beget shallow answers, which results in shallow discussion. Questions that can be answered with a “yes” or “no” don’t really encourage elaboration. In the same vein, fact-based questions with factual answers. These questions are divorced from human opinion and human experience and, therefore, divorced from insight.

Want to steer towards thoughtful dialogue? Ask questions that have many possible answers. Ask questions that have no right answers. Ask for opinions and rationale. Ask hypotheticals. Each answer will be colored by the responder’s viewpoint and that’s how you cultivate interesting talk.

One caveat: open-ended questions require open-ended minds. If you’re looking for a fight, don’t even bother. If you aren’t willing to accept someone’s answers for what they are — even if you disagree — then don’t ask.

Explore Shared Interests



People like to talk about things that interest them.

The easiest way to get someone to spill thirty minutes of their thoughts is to point the discussion onto a topic that they hold dear to their heart. Passion is hard to bottle up once the floodgates are opened and passion is fundamental for truly authentic engagement and disclosure.

When dialogue is centered on a shared interest between participants, the verbal exchange (or written exchange when on the Internet) takes on a life of its own. Some of the most fascinating discussions I’ve ever read have been between those who passionately believe in the words that come out of their mouths.

Just be careful that passion doesn’t turn into aggression or defensiveness. If that happens, it may be a sign that the conversation is verging on unfruitful.


Argue the Point, Not the Person


When a discussion turns into an argument, remember to avoid logical fallacies.

The ad hominem is one of the easiest and most ubiquitous debate tactics that occur on the Internet. I can’t count the number of times I’ve seen someone start their rebuttal with “You’re an idiot” and it doesn’t take much imagination to guess how well those back-and-forth exchanges go. The same is true for other fallacies, such as the straw man, the anecdote, etc.

Debate is good. It’s a legitimate and effective way to temper arguments, to find flaws in logic, and to ultimately arrive at a stronger position. But it’s important to remember that civil debate is the key. The “I have to win no matter what” attitude is a surefire way to snuff critical thinking, destroy engagement, and burn relationships.

On the flipside, keep yourself in check that you don’t mistake someone’s attack on your argument to be an attack on you. Don’t take it personally when someone disagrees. Be humble and open to correction and you’ll have something to gain from every conversation from here on out.

Are you mindful of the way you approach online interactions? What sort of tips and tactics do you employ when engaging with others on the Internet? How do you maximize the fruit of an online discussion? Share your thoughts with us in the comments!

Image Credits: Chalkboard Handshake Via Shutterstock, Question Marks Via Shutterstock, Conversation Via Shutterstock, Argument Via Shutterstock

Related topics: Online Commenting, Online Etiquette.

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  1. tinkicker
    May 15, 2014 at 11:48 pm

    Lol...I've not ridden the bitcoin bus, so I haven't experienced that particular party...
    I imagine that every one of us has felt a troll bite at times, and we could all probably name a different internet social strata and still be absolutely correct...unfortunately.
    Peace to all!

  2. Tinkicker
    May 13, 2014 at 11:18 pm

    I'd say that on the commentary dialogues I've been involved in before, the vitriol levels were worst on these top three:
    1) Religious topics
    2) Political topics
    3) Linux "help" sites
    The snarkiness seems to correspond to the level of arrogance displayed and I in all sincerity have never met more arrogant folks than SOME of the Linux people lol (disclaimer: I LOVE Linux). I guess they think it's them against the world.
    Personally, if I'm on a commentary site, I'm usually looking for help and who goes searching for help in "the real world" with an arrogant, snarky attitude? Unfortunately, as a customer service representative, a LOT of people do. What makes it an even worse situation on the web is that gosh darn anonymity factor...we say things here we might never normally say out there, don't we? We get emboldened by the miles of cable between us lol.
    I always try my best to catch flies with honey and not vinegar, and I do my best to prove the old notion that the American South is flush with good old fashioned manners lol. I'll say one any conversation where I chose to be polite and respectful I've never been disappointed.
    Your experience will always be what you make of it, so make it a great one. Up to you!

    • Joel L
      May 15, 2014 at 10:57 pm

      I agree with your ranking. I would put the Bitcoin community up there as a close #4 - they're so insular and arrogant that it's hard to want to be part of that community.

  3. Sean
    May 13, 2014 at 2:00 am

    Cheers to this article. If you take literally any comment s section of an article, post, or forum (well almost any) the vitriol is alive and well. I wonder if humans have always been so passionate about being so terrible to one another. I disagree with a lot of things that people say online, but I don't feel the need to bash that person because they think differently, which is most of the hate that I see online. Thankfully, if I can feel this way about it and try to not be that way, I KNOW there are thousands if not millions of others that feel the same way. Thanks for the good article (I DO mean that ;)

    • Jo-anne P
      May 13, 2014 at 7:46 am

      I could not agree with you more Sean

    • Jo-anne P
      May 13, 2014 at 7:53 am

      I go out of my way to be positive and polite whenever I respond to a comment online. Firstly I respect everyones opinion and whether or not I agree with it has no bearing on manners. I learn so much from user input that I go out of my way to respond in a positive manner just to let them know I appreciate the effort and the time they took to submit a response.

      It is sad that people think just because it is the internet they have free reign to bash another individual. Manners civility and respect. Respect yourself first and go from their. Have a great day!

    • Joel L
      May 15, 2014 at 10:55 pm

      Thanks Sean! I used to be a big time hater myself and it just doesn't make sense in the grand scheme of things. If we could all just be a bit more respectful of each other, life would be more pleasant for everyone. If I had to place bets on why people act so hostile on the Internet, it would be on the illusion of anonymity.