Calling in vs Calling Out: Effective Engagement


“Its hard to hate up-close” – Michelle Obama

“People are hard to hate close-up. Move in.” – Brené Brown PhD LMSW

If you have spent any time online, you’ve probably seen a social media thread start as a discussion but devolved into a series of insults, often drawing in other participants who distract from the point. Though social media can be well suited for information sharing, it’s not usually the most effective medium for a serious and engaged discussion.

Online platforms lower inhibitions and give people the opportunity to say things they wouldn’t otherwise say face to face, turning discussions into empty shame and blame games. Out of respect for each other and the issue you both feel passionately about, consider moving the discussion to a medium that might be better suited for a respectful and generative dialogue:

“It seems we both have a lot to say about this issue–would you be interested in scheduling a phone/zoom meeting for a more in-depth discussion?” 

“This is a rich conversation–would you mind if we moved it to email/phone/in person so we can give this issue the time and attention it deserves?” 

“I’d love to talk more about this! My email is” 

If online discussion is your only option, even just moving the conversation into a private chat can work wonders (assuming you have a relationship where direct messaging would be appropriate.) As for communicating in a thread, it would help to try to visualize the person you are speaking to or find some way to connect with their humanity.

When engaged in dialogue, try using the Socratic method, a form of cooperative argumentative dialogue, which is basically just asking questions. Ask questions that help clarify the person’s viewpoint. People are usually speaking from a specific set of values and beliefs. The Socratic method can help clarify those values and beliefs, and these will act as the framework for your discussion.

So, remember these three tips for engaging in respectful  dialogue:  

1. If possible, move the discussion to a more personable medium.

2. Do your best to understand the other person’s point of view, values, and beliefs before making your point. If you’re disinterested in their position, there is no basis for engagement.

3. No matter the medium for discussion, always engage respectfully–avoid talking over each other, name-calling, or escalating your speech (speaking faster/louder than the other person.)