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- With political polarization, it can be hard to get someone – like a family member – to sympathize with your views.
- These 10 online classes and books can teach you how to have more impactful and meaningful dialogues with others.
- You can also use these skills to negotiate effectively in your professional and personal life.
At a time of rapidly growing political polarization, it can be exceedingly difficult (and exhausting) to fight over an issue – only to reach an impasse every time. And while there’s no surefire way to get someone to agree with your views, there are tried-and-true tactics you can use to at least have a more productive conversation.
Enter: the art of rhetoric. These classes, talks, and books will teach you everything from classic persuasive appeals to the tools you’ll need to debunk bad-faith arguments, while also encouraging you to sharpen your own reasoning and critical-thinking skills. And while many of these tips tie into political debates, they can apply to everything from your career to your personal life. You’ll learn how to listen closely, negotiate effectively, and, most importantly, have a respectful dialogue with someone you disagree with (granted, of course, that the respect is reciprocated).
While some of these courses and resources are free or free to audit, certificate costs range from $29.99-$169, depending on the class and learning platform.
10 online resources to help you debate more effectively:
In this class, author, speechwriting consultant, and rhetoric advocate Jay Heinrichs teaches you how to “win any argument without actually arguing.” Whether you’re commenting on someone’s political Facebook post or trying to get your kids to clean their room, his lessons are rooted in goal-oriented, persuasive tactics that keep you from giving in to anger or manipulation. The point is to get a positive result that brings you closer to the other person — aka, one that doesn’t involve yelling or snide remarks.
Rhetoric: The Art of Persuasive Writing and Public Speaking
Structured around Harvard professor James Engell’s “Elements of Rhetoric” class, this course breaks down common rhetorical devices while also having you annotate famous speeches from the likes of Martin Luther King, Jr. and John F. Kennedy, to name a few. You’ll also analyze opposing speeches around often-contentious issues — like gun control — so you can learn how to make your own arguments stronger.
Commit to a Dialogue Rather Than Debate
Before you speak, it helps to know the difference between a debate and a dialogue, the latter of which is appropriate for culturally sensitive topics. According to Duke University professor Dr. Daisy Lovelace, a debate tends to focus on winning an argument — which quickly leads to heated fights when the subject is someone’s direct, lived experience. Dialogues, on the other hand, are inherently collaborative and inclusive — and are the first step to discussing conflicts that are, at their core, deeply personal.
Chris Voss Teaches the Art of Negotiation
As an FBI hostage negotiator, Chris Voss is very used to navigating high-stakes conflicts. Beyond having a sound argument, his approach focuses on other tactics, such as mirroring and body language, to gather information about the other person. The examples range from bank robbery case studies to scenarios where you’d ask for a raise or compromise with your teenage child — all to demonstrate that these skills can vastly improve your professional and personal life.
Make Your Voice Heard: Write a Personal and Persuasive Essay
Whether you’re crafting a cover letter for a job or a personal statement for a college application, mastering the art of the persuasive essay is an invaluable life skill. In this short class, writer Sara Eckel teaches you how to spot a story worth telling (be it personal or political), structure your essay effectively, and even break into opinion journalism if you’re a more advanced writer. By the end, you’ll finish a draft of a 600-word essay on a topic you feel strongly about.
Introduction to Logical and Critical Thinking Specialization
This four-part Duke University philosophy course gives you a robust education on how to break down arguments, sharpen your reasoning skills, and keep from falling for common logical fallacies. The lesson on reasoning is broken down into two courses — one on deductive reasoning (through charts and data) and one through inductive reasoning (examining generalizations and causal relationships). By the end, you’ll naturally feel more confident about your views because you’ll be able to address any inconsistencies in the other person’s argument — as well as your own.
10 Ways to Have a Better Conversation
Author and radio host Celeste Headlee opens up this TED Talk by asking the audience if they’ve ever unfriended someone over something they found politically offensive on Facebook. After a big show of hands and some laughter, Headlee recites some stats to further illustrate how divided we are — and how small changes in our communication habits can make all the difference. In a little over 10 minutes, Headlee quickly covers the most important aspects of a unifying, mutually satisfying talk, which is solid advice whether you’re arguing over healthcare reform or offering support to someone going through a rough time.
“Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion”
This classic bestseller doesn’t teach you how to persuade — it dives into the psychology of why people actually agree with you. Whether you’re using this knowledge to advance your career or to just get better at backing your claims, this audiobook covers the six principles of persuasion, backed by over three decades of evidence-based research.
Intelligence Squared Debates
Designed to tackle the increasing polarization in American politics, Intelligence Squared (or “IQ2US”) is a podcast that lets you listen to debates from experts about some of the most hotly contested topics. Examples of recent episodes include “Should Washington Break Up Big Tech?” and “Has the Electoral College Outlived Its Usefulness?“, with the website encouraging comments and feedback from the audience on the debates themselves. And because these arguments involve popular political topics you might already be fighting over, it’s a great way to see the opposing side’s views to better understand (and strengthen) your own.
Improving Your Listening Skills
Having solid debate skills is pretty meaningless if you don’t know how to listen. In this 30-minute video class, Duke professor and career expert Dorie Clark breaks down the common obstacles to active listening, how to tell if you’re zoning out, and how to hear the other person in a more mindful way. She also shares tips on how to stop yourself from interrupting and reassure the other person that you heard them — a quality that comes in handy no matter what the conflict is.
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