Some additional advice on peaceful debate, from Dr. Michael Edelstein:
Communication Strategies For Building Consensus (10/20/04)
1. 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.)
2. Bring up and then address one issue at a time.
3. 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 best.
4. 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.
5. Avoid accusations, especially overgeneralized ones, such as: "You never...", You always...", "Why can't you...?", "I can't believe you said that," etc.
6. Say "Please," "Thank you," "I apologize," "Great idea!," etc., generously. These words are the lubricants of communication--especially "I apologize." ;-)
7. Before criticizing a position, consider feeding it back to the person advancing it, to confirm you've understood it.
8. 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.
9. 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.
10. 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 disagree with." (Alternatively, trying to prove you're not intolerant, or launching a counter-offensive, rarely is constructive.)
11. 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.
12. 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 standard.
13. If you're communicating by computer, consider moving to the telephone should communication get stalled.
14. Give positive feedback, praise, appreciation, "atta boys" wherever possible.
15. Preface constructive criticism with positive feedback.
16. 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.
17. 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.
18. Remind others--and yourself--of our common goal: to build a free society. Consequently, collaboration, rather than one-upmanship, is essential.