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Good Faith Conversation

As someone who is hoping to have productive conversations which point toward a better future, I have had to think about how to conduct myself. In the course of conversation, what do I expect - both from myself and others? Simply, I want to be someone who acts “in good faith”.

I looked around, and couldn’t find the all-in-one-place list of my dreams, so I decided to make one. I collected ideas which fit this theme, along with my own thoughts, and eventually organized the key concepts into the list below. It is neither completely original or authoritative, but I think it is quite useful for having fruitful dialogue.

Principles of good faith conversation:

  • Assume the other person is conversing in good faith, following all the rules below, until proven otherwise

  • Have a sincere intention to be fair, open, honest, humble, and to treat the other person as an equal

  • Do not assume the other person is malicious if ignorance remains a possible explanation

  • Do not intentionally confuse, distract, or deceive

  • Do not lie or withhold relevant information

  • Do not unfairly frame the conversation, and strive to contribute to a fair and honest framing with the other person in a way that is mutually agreeable

  • Commit to the rule that you will always strive to steelman, not strawman, the other person’s argument; do not argue against someone’s position until you can articulate the strongest version of their argument in a way they find satisfactory

  • Do not assume you understand the whole worldview of another person; develop your understanding of the other person explicitly through good faith conversation rather than guessing or inferring

  • Be sincerely open to changing your mind based on new information, evidence, or perspectives that result from the conversation

  • Be transparent about your perspective, your evidence, and what evidence would convince you to change your mind

  • Ask sincere questions with the goal of creating a better mutual understanding

  • Do not intentionally engage in rhetorical tricks or logical fallacies

  • Practice non-violent communication: empathetic listening and honest expression of observations, feelings, needs, and requests

  • Be inclusive and respectful of the disabilities and neurodiversity of all participants

  • Do not engage in hate speech or use language to intentionally inflame the conversation or hurt the other person

  • Do not evade the other person’s argument through misdirection tactics like tone-policing or “both sides” arguments

  • Do not use unfalsifiable arguments or thought-terminating clichés

  • Do not load the conversation with unnecessarily-confusing language; strive to state your positions as clearly and simply as possible

  • Use the principle of charity: always seek the most charitable interpretation of the other person’s views and intentions

  • Do not use power, influence, coercion, or emotional manipulation to affect the conversation, and be aware of any existing power dynamics that can’t be avoided

  • Use the no-interruption rule; restate this boundary if the other person is frequently interrupting, and walk away from the conversation if they persist, rather than copying their behavior

  • Seek to have the conversation in an environment that minimizes the risk of miscommunication or misinterpretation. Speak face-to-face if possible. And, if not, converse in the next-most embodied space (such as a video chat, followed by a phone call, followed by texting)

  • If the conversation seems intractable:

    • Agree to break it down into its more basic components (like a single belief within a worldview, and find agreement or at least understanding on these more basic points before returning to the larger conversation

    • Agree on epistemological criteria: ground the conversation in an agreement over what criteria (e.g. authority, coherence, and consensus) are being used to give weight to statements you believe are true

    • Use the HALT heuristic: Pause difficult conversations when you notice that you are Hungry, Angry, Lonely, or Tired


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