We are a nation that loves to argue. Last week it was Gillette razors, this week it's abortion. As long as there are people, there will be subjects for those people to argue about.
In and of itself, arguing is not bad, but it can be carried out in a very poor way. Believe it or not, it is possible to have a discussion with someone you disagree with and come out on the other side with an appreciation for their viewpoint and/or a respect for their perspective whether or not you agree with them.
Unfortunately, this ideal outcome takes a lot of work and requires a great degree of self-control to pull off. From experience I can tell you that this outcome is worth the effort, especially when it comes to religious discussion. If you'd like to know how to have discussion without demonizing the other side read on.
Listen to Understand
Many of us have the nasty habit of listening to respond. We use conversation as a springboard to discuss things we already believe. This applies everywhere from the important to the inane. For example, you might ask someone about the weather, not because you care about their thoughts on the weather, but because you have a crazy story about the weather that you want to share.
You cannot understand why someone believes what they believe unless you get to know them through listening. Of course, it's much easier to assume you know why people believe what they believe, but you will find that you are often wrong in your assumptions. Consider this, if you want someone to listen to you, you have to be willing to listen to them. In order to change someone's mind, you need to listen attentively while they share their mind with you.
Consider all the information you have to process in any given conversation. A persons background, life experiences, cultural differences, upbringing, etc. all feed into one's beliefs. In some scenarios, a person may be defensive or even hostile to your opinion based on past conversations with other individuals of the same persuasion. On top of all of this there is the added annoyance of having to listen to a point of view that you disagree with. Patience is a must in disagreements. Failure to have patience results in flippant responses that often cause others to become further cemented in their views.
Do Unto Others
"So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them" (Mt. 7:12).
If you don't want to be yelled at, don't yell. If you want to be listened to, then listen. Note that Jesus says "whatever you wish others would do to you, do also to them". The implication of this verse is that Jesus expects you to treat others the way you want to be treated even if they do not reciprocate those actions.
Avoid Hateful Terminology
The way you talk about people influences the way you talk to them. Take the recent discussions around abortion for example. Those that are "pro-choice" are often branded as "pro-murder" by those against abortion. In reality, most "pro-choice" proponents do not believe they are ending a life. This doesn't mean that they aren't ending a life, but it should mean that a conversation with someone who is "pro-life" will go a lot differently.
Over the last week I have seen a number of my friends refer to those that are "pro-choice" as "baby murderers". Though I am "pro-life" myself you will never find me using that terminology. Outright categorizing another group in such a way publicly guarantees that I will never be able to have a dialogue with them. Since I believe the baby in the womb is a full-fledged baby, I want to keep the lanes of conversation open so that I may have opportunity to win others to that truth. Hateful terminology closes doors to conversation, doors that need to remain open if we hope to change someone's beliefs.
Remember that the Other Side is Not an Idea, But a Person With an Idea
Social media and internet anonymity have caused us to forget that there is a person on the other side of the screen. If you are a Christian then the ante is upped because it's not just a person, but a soul created in the image of God on the other side of the screen. It has been my experience that people are demonized as collateral damage to the idea they hold. Our problem is less with the person and more with their belief on a particular subject. Unfortunately, due to our dependence on faceless technology, we tend to roll ideas and people into the same package. The person you are demonizing is a person God loves. Show them that love and you may find more effectiveness in persuading them to your point of view (Eph. 4:15).
Talking to those we disagree with is a difficult process, but one that is worth the effort. The next time you find yourself disagreeing with someone, instead of lashing out in a debate, try listening to them to see where they are coming from. At worst, you will leave the conversation with a better understanding of your fellow man. At best, you will have won someone to the truth.