Ten Steps To A Constructive Conversation

May the Lord grant to me and to you the grace we need to conduct (sometimes difficult) conversations in a way that is honoring to him and edifying to our neighbors.

Finally, be prepared to agree to disagree. Sometimes, for a variety of reasons, there will be no resolution. Sometimes the best for which one can hope to achieve a greater degree of clarity about what the other side believes and is arguing. Perhaps, in the course of a disagreement, each side can help the other eliminate unhelpful or uncharitable arguments or characterizations. If it is necessary for your well-being or sense of self to “win” an argument then we are no longer pursuing truth are we?


Recently I published a post on infant baptism (is it a Roman Catholic leftover) answering a question fielded many times at the HB. I answered in the negative and gave reasons why. Several days later a series of comments were written in response. None of these appeared on the HB, even though some of them reflected some industry. There are several reasons why and I thought it would be helpful to help readers think through how to have a conversation.

  1. Understand how to conduct a conversation. Unfortunately the word conversation has become a euphemism for disagreement, as if disagreement is now a naughty word. What a silly thing to think. How can two people possibly learn from each other if they cannot recognize that they think differently about an issue? Both are perfectly acceptable at the HB. A conversation, even one that ends in disagreement, need not be disagreeable, i.e., it need not be angry and unpleasant.
  2. Listen to (or read) what the other person is actually saying. It is a common temptation to wait until the other person stops talking (or writing) and then to ignore everything that has just been said (or written) and to go on as if nothing has changed. That is not a conversation. That would be two monologues. In such a case, in the absence of true listening 0r reading, the two will necessarily talk past one another. This happens frequently on the internet. It is essential to a conversation to read or listen to what has been written or said, to account for it, and to respond to what has actually been written or said. The spate of responses, which went to the trash, did not meet this basic test. It was clear from the responses that what I wrote refuted what they had been taught or believed. Their first reaction should have been to ask whether what I wrote is true. The second reaction should have been to do some further research. One of the principal aims of the HB is to encourage readers to do their own research into primary sources and into the better secondary literature. In these cases, neither of these two steps seems to have occurred.
  3. Confirm that you (the reader/listener) has understood correctly what is being argued. Can you re-state the argument fairly and clearly and confirm that is what the speaker/writer intended to say? This is essential. Frequently, and this seems especially true in internet disagreements and discussions, it is a temptation to re-state the other’s position falsely or incorrectly. This happens when one changes a term in the premise. Once this happens, true understanding of one another breaks down. It is also evident that one of the parties is not truly interested in discussion.
  4. Contribute constructively to the discussion or disagreement. One way to do this is to ask clarifying questions. Some of the responses to my post simply repeated the very same arguments and claims that I had just refuted without bothering to address what I had written. This is not constructive. It does not move the discussion forward.
  5. Show how my response is wrong.

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