Be clear and direct about questions or requests.
When asking a question, ask for the information you want. E.g. don’t ask “why” unless you want to know why. Give some basic, simple thought to what your question is and directly say it.
Saying, “If you do X, I will do Y” is not a request that the person do X. It’s giving them information about their options.
Saying “I want X” is not literally a request, even if X has to do with another person. Sometimes that wording may be clear enough, but other times it won’t be, and it’s hard to tell the difference, so don’t rely on it. A clear request is “Please do X”. Requests are often phrased as questions, e.g. “Will you do X?” When in doubt, say “I request (that you) X”. (The parentheses indicate optional words that fit some scenarios but not others.)
Use question marks for your questions. Do not use question marks on non-questions.
Don’t skip steps. E.g. don’t ask “Why do you think X?” if the person has not said they think X. Instead ask “Do you think X?”
Don’t ask a question which is answered by the words “yes” or “no” unless you want a yes or no answer.
If someone asks a question with a yes or no answer, start your answer with “yes” or “no”. If you want to say something else, say it after giving the direct answer. Don’t leave out the clear, direct answer.
In general with all questions, start your answer with the answer. Your first sentence should clearly and directly answer the question. If you want to explain extra details, put those after the answer. Don’t use “But” for the extra details. Don’t contradict your original answer. Phrase the answer to be correct on its own. You can add minor/tiny exceptions in the details (“unless zombie Hitler shows up and points a gun to my head”), but if your answer requires a major exception, your answer is wrong and you should change it. E.g. say “often” instead of “almost always” in your original answer if there are some major exceptions.
When you use strong words like “always”, “never”, “all”, “none”, consider if they are actually, literally true (don’t say it if it’s false) and consider if you have a reason to make such a strong claim. In general, when you want to make a strong claim like that, you shouldn’t. Instead, remove the qualifier. E.g. instead of saying “All cats have hair” say “Cats have hair”. Adding the “all” is a way of saying “there are absolutely no exceptions” which is false (in this example and in many cases) and is generally an unnecessary/irrelevant claim. Don’t say “Some cats have hair” either, that’s too weak and defensive, there’s no need to limit it to “some”, that doesn’t represent reality well (more than “some” cats have hair, it’s more common than that).
Don’t use intensifiers without a big reason. In general, just delete it every time you write “very”.
Don’t assert things which other people should judge for themselves or which are being debated in the discussion. E.g. don’t call one of your arguments “good” when 1) it’s other people’s job and privilege to decide if it’s good or not 2) you’re debating with someone who you can expect to disagree with your evaluation of how good it is. Instead, simply call it an argument.
Don’t assert things, without giving an argument, which other people will disagree with. In particular this comes up with claims about people. E.g. if Joe claims Sue is angry and gives some reasoning related to what she wrote, Sue saying “I am not angry” is not a counter-argument, it’s an unargued assertion. Sue should not assume her beliefs about herself are true. Sue shouldn’t expect Joe to believe her claims about her emotions, thoughts, motivations, and so on, just because she says so. Further, Sue herself shouldn’t believe her claims about herself unless she has arguments.
Don’t respond to questions with counter-questions. Don’t respond to arguments by raising new topics. Engage with what people say.
Occasionally you may switch to a higher level meta issue with logical priority. E.g. suppose you’re debating politics. If someone asks you a question about your views on government-run healthcare, or makes an argument about that, don’t respond with a question or argument about immigration or border walls. Don’t change the topic to something else about politics. However, it can be appropriate to change the topic to something non-political like “Hold on, the discussion is getting really chaotic. Let’s try to organize it and go one thing at a time. OK?” Or you could say you were losing interest and suggest dropping it or discussing why it’s interesting, important and productive enough to continue. Those tangents make sense because those issues come before and govern the political discussion. But switching from one political issue to another is non-responsive to what the person said and is a way people avoid explaining their position.
To a first approximation, all mistakes matter. Try not to make mistakes. When you do make a mistake, don’t make the excuse of saying you weren’t really trying. Take responsibility for your error and try to fix it and figure out what caused the error.
Be prepared for discussion topics to change from e.g. politics to non-politics like the thought processes behind the mistake you made about politics.
Be prepared to discuss how you think rational discussion works. Be prepared to disagree with people about that and have to explain your thinking. Don’t expect the methods of productive discussion to be something everyone agrees on and which goes without saying.
Be prepared for people to say things you consider rude, impolite, etc. If they do, it means they disagree with you about how to discuss. You can argue your case or be tolerant and broad-minded and not mind.
Be prepared to use references and for other people to use them. You don’t have to write out every idea you have. Some have already been written down (or audio or video was recorded), in the past, by you or by someone else. You can link, cite or quote stuff to avoid repeating.
Consider, when you claim something, if you think it’s a new, original idea, an uncommon idea, a reasonably well known idea, or an extremely popular idea. If you don’t know which it is, or where you got it, that’s a problem. That indicates you don’t know much about your own idea. If you do know basic info about the idea’s status in the world, that is relevant in some ways. E.g. if an idea is very popular and widely accepted, then someone should have already written the idea down in a good, high quality way. So quote that instead of writing shoddy, half-assed new arguments. If you can’t or won’t do that, why not? What’s going on? Wanting to practice explaining things yourself is one answer. Another thing that can be going on is that millions of people believed it without ever caring whether anyone ever wrote good arguments explaining the matter, which would be an important and relevant fact about the idea.
If you don’t know the purpose of every word you read, you don’t understand it. Don’t ignore or skip some words. Don’t try to give counter-arguments when you don’t understand it (at least not without a warning that you don’t understand it but you’re going to try to say something anyway, so people know the situation – lots of stuff that’s normally bad to do becomes OK if you clearly state what’s going on so no one will be misled). Try to figure it out and/or ask what the text means.
Rational truth-seeking discussion is about figuring out decisive answers to resolve issues. E.g. criticisms that refute, not weaken, ideas. It’s not about scoring points, it’s about finding (contextually) conclusive answers.
Try to keep track of your discussion so that you know which ideas have been refuted by which arguments, which are not-refuted, which ideas conflict with each other, what questions are open and unanswered, etc.
Discussion is cooperative. Don’t be biased. Don’t argue for “your” side. Contribute arguments, questions and ideas for all sides in an effort to find the truth. And feel free to ask for help from the other guy about anything – he’s your ally, not your enemy.
If something is too hard or confusing or overwhelming, just stop and slow down. State the problem and propose something to do about it or ask for suggestions on what to do about it.
When in doubt, deal with the doubt. Don’t ignore problems. Don’t try to focus on the main topic like physics or immigration. Bring up the problem with the discussion. Ignoring the problem will only break the discussion and confuse the other person who you hid the problem from. Hiding the problem from your discussion partner(s) is dishonest and it sabotages the discussion.
If you’re emotional, take a break from discussing or pause the main topic and communicate about the problem. (Unless the emotions are clearly and significantly positive, that’s OK. But don’t make the excuse that you don’t feel “bad” or it’s not “negative” emotions – if it’s anywhere near neutral plus strong enough that you’re noticing it, it’s a significant concern and you shouldn’t be confident of your understanding of it.) Like other problems, getting emotional during discussions is not something to try to ignore or hide. Do something to solve the problem yourself and take responsibility for it working or ask for help.
Don’t rush. Take as much time as you need. Don’t sit there worrying endlessly for no clear reason either. Take reasonable steps that aren’t careless and which follow your thinking and discussing methods. No more, no less.
It’s easiest to organize and keep track of a discussion, and follow up over time, on the curi forum. That’s easier than FI because you don't have to learn to use and format emails and because it puts the whole discussion on one page. And it’s easier than Discord because it’s easy to find and refer to everything instead of it getting scrolled way up.
Plan to follow up on your discussions over time until they reach a conclusion of some sort. Don’t just end them for no reason because you went to sleep or 24 hours passed or whatever. You can end discussions when you reach answers about the topic or when you have some reason to, e.g. you feel like you learned enough for now. When you end a discussion, explain your reason and be prepared to consider and discuss criticism of your reasoning.
Try to be extremely honest and expect others to be honest too.
Don’t form negative judgments of people until at least one negative claim about them has objectively reached a conclusion in discussion. E.g. you argued your case fully and completely and you think it’s adequate, covered everything, and there are no substantive counter arguments that you haven’t addressed (all the replies are just distractions and bullshit like the person putting effort into misunderstanding what you said, which you covered as a general category but not for each one individually). If you’ve never quoted someone’s error, explained a criticism, and addressed questions and counter-arguments in a way you think is objectively conclusive (should satisfy and persuade any rational person, including the person criticized, who is only resisting the claim due to bias, irrationality, dishonesty, evasion, etc.) then don’t be judgmental. Give people the benefit of the doubt and act with good will and in good faith until there is at least one clearly established reason to do otherwise.
If you don’t like something and don’t say anything about it, you are the one behaving badly, not them. If you just assume it’s bad, you’re dealing with a disagreement (they don’t think what they did is bad) by assuming you’re right, without arguing your case. That’s an irrational, not truth-seeking, way to handle disagreements.
See also these other discussion tips including more in the comments there.
PS This is all related to epistemology because thinking and discussing are largely equivalent. Rational discussion is externalized rational thinking, and rational thinking is internalized rational discussion. For a truth-seeking process that deals with disagreements between ideas, the number of people involved (one, two, more) and the format (text, voice, thoughts in your head) do not fundamentally change what makes it rational and effective.