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Common Discourse Pitfalls and How to Avoid Them

The Doe Team

by The Doe Team

| February 24, 2022

Mistakes in discourse happen. Here’s how to avoid them.

We’ve talked at length about tips and tricks for successfully engaging in discourse. But what about common discourse mistakes? We’re bound to have slip-ups now and again when engaging with others. In this blog, we cover common discourse pitfalls and how to avoid them.

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Common Communication Pitfalls

Learning to engage with new ideas and partake in important discussions is bound to come with a few missteps—after all, making mistakes means you’re growing. Reflecting on your own communications, you may find yourself falling into one or more of these common pitfalls:

Planning your responses. Part of successful discussion means using active listening skills. If you’re planning what you’re going to say before it’s your turn to respond, you’re not giving your full attention to the discussion at hand.

Making assumptions about an idea, person or topic. Jumping to conclusions or assuming you know what the other person will say cuts a conversation off cold.

Interrupting. Interrupting signals to your counterpart that you’re not willing to hear what they have to say or that their point is less important than yours. 

Letting your emotions get the better of you. It’s natural to experience a range of emotions, especially when discussing difficult or sensitive topics. But letting your emotions take over the conversation leaves less room for reason and productive exchange. 

Asking leading questions. Asking questions to guide people to your point of view is an easy trap to fall into. Discussion questions should lead to greater understanding of another perspective, better clarity around a point and break down emotional barriers—not back your counterpart into your corner.

Not considering different communication styles. Not everyone communicates the same way. If you like to communicate in a certain style, be sure the person you're talking to responds positively to that form of communication.  

Making sweeping generalizations. Speaking in absolutes leaves less room for growth and exchange and can be tricky to navigate when you’re trying to have an open discussion.

Relying on logical fallacies. Logical fallacies are errors in reasoning that can easily derail a conversation by “distorting an issue, drawing false conclusions, misusing evidence or misusing language.” 

Seeking to “win” the discussion. If your motivation is to win, you’re no longer taking part in a discussion.

If you’ve made one of these slip-ups, a number of factors could be at play. Perhaps you feel ill-prepared or put on the spot when speaking to a certain topic and feel pressured to appear informed. Maybe you believe you’re up to speed on a certain topic but don’t have the latest information or don’t realize your sources are biased/out of date. A variety of bias types might also be at play. Or possibly you simply weren’t in the correct headspace to engage in the discourse in the first place. Some of these causes are easier to spot than others. Be generous with yourself and others, and allow space for both mistakes and recovery where possible.

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Avoiding Common Discourse Pitfalls

You can take a few steps to avoid those common pitfalls while also overcoming your own biases:

  1. Ask yourself if you are speaking from a position of being reasonably informed about the issue at hand or if you are just stating the first thing that came to mind. It is perfectly okay to say you are not up to speed on the topic instead of making up an opinion on the spot.
  2. Check your assumptions. The more emotional the topic, the more likely we are to assume something about the other person and their opinion when it differs from ours. 
  3. Enter your discussions with an open mind and a goal of learning something new versus beating the other person. Discourse is not a contest you can win. 
  4. Ask clarifying questions. Make sure you are trying to understand the logic someone uses and how they reached a certain conclusion. 
  5. Take the time to reflect on your conversations and identify what went well and what could have gone better.

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Mistakes Are Expected

You’re bound to make mistakes when communicating with others. What matters is if you take the time to own your missteps and learn from them. For more helpful communication resources like this one, subscribe to our blog.

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