1.) Assigning Motives: When having a critical conversation, we must be careful in assigning motives to someone's actions. This operates under the assumption that "I know why you did what you did." Though we might be tempted to surmise or deduce the motive, we must focus on the action itself, giving the person the opportunity to name their own "why." Studies have shown we have a tendency to assign a far more derogatory motive to someone else's actions than we might ourselves in the given situation.
2.) Unfounded or Unconfirmed Accusations: Critical conversations will inevitably include moments of accountability whereby you might have to go to someone else and challenge them on an impropriety or indiscretion. However, we are all prone to rumors, bad days, insecurities, or misinterpretations. Rash conversations that start with, "YOU DID...(fill in the blank)" without access to the whole story, critical evaluation of the subsequent details, or acknowledgement of limited perspectives can immediately sabotage trust in the face of innocence.
3.) Dismissing and Discrediting Allegiance: Critical conversations can leave us vulnerable to dualisms, especially, "us" and "them." It's easier to have a critical conversation with someone I've deemed as enemy than one who might (amid the disagreement) still remain friend. Instead of recognizing the space of conversation as a space of understanding, growth, and ideological exchange, we come loaded with an arsenal of evidence that threatens the other person's "belonging." If you don't think like "us," you must then be a "them. "You aren't one of us. You aren't committed to the mission. You aren't a true (fill in the identity marker - American, Republican, Christian, etc.)
4.) Assigning Pejorative Labels: Dualisms lead to the marking of identities. Labeling people as members of a "different camp," one easily dismissed because of their failure to meet the demands of ever-narrowing and arbitrary litmus tests of inclusion lead to immediate breakdowns. We weaponize labels for the sake of dismissal. Attacks against identity and belonging immediately sabotage the possibilities for meaningful engagement.
So where might we go from here?
1.) When critiquing, focus on the outcomes and not one's character. If character conversations are necessary, start with an interest in personal growth rather than invalidation of personhood and defense of your personhood in the wake of a threat you assign them.
2.) Critique the Arguments and Claims, not the person behind the arguments and claims. This provides emotional distance when evaluating the legitimacy of an argument. We all make statements, write posts, and make claims that aren't complete or fully indicative of who we are. See the argument and claim as the product of the person and not the person themselves.
3.) Ask open ended questions that enable a person to speak to their concerns, desires, agendas, and motives. Listen carefully and follow-up with additional questions. This is not an interrogation but a demonstration of interest.
4.) Own your own perspective before assigning someone else motive. It's better to say, "this is how I heard what you said and this is how I felt about what happen" than to say "this is why you said it and why you did it."