Yes, there are communication techniques to tone down verbal aggression in exchanging points of view. These techniques are of necessity mutually respectful because respect is the only thing that humans consistently respond to positively. However, in my experience, even these techniques do not work one hundred percent of the time. The reason: Humans are not robots.
Humans want what they want when they want it because they want it. This being the case, I personally find it helpful to evaluate the situation before engaging. I ask myself questions along these lines:
- Is this conversation on an intellectual level I enjoy?
- Can I learn something from this conversation, or contribute something to it, i.e. will it be productive for my life?
- Will this conversation end peacefully with all parties feeling heard and respected?
If the answer to these question is Yes, I will engage. However, for the answer to be Yes, the people involved will be the kind who respond to respectful communication techniques meant to tone down aggression.
Toning Down the Aggression
I'm looking at The Basics of Nonviolent Communication TM and Common Logical Fallacies (pdf). I think NVC is going to accomplish your goal if you combine this with the tools provided in Logical Fallacies.
Identifying and avoiding being drawn into logical fallacies in emotional debates is a huge step in avoiding the kind of situation you described. For example, there is no such thing as a "flawed opinion."
Opinions are subjective. We all have a right to our own opinion. This does not mean that anyone else will agree with this opinion. People who disagree don't have a right to call it "flawed," however. Logic can be flawed but not opinions. Logic is objective, about principles, how facts work together to make the world go round. Flawed logic is faulty logic that doesn't work; the gears are jammed. There is no such problem with opinions because they are just ideas inside people's heads.
Knowing this difference can enable you to find the correct response to lower aggression. If you are with the kind of people I would choose to be with, NVC will work. Using NVC, inform the person of their logical fallacy.
Applying NVC in Decreasing Aggression
The first step in decreasing aggression in the conversation is to decrease aggression in oneself. From "The Basics of Nonviolent Communication":
NVC uses consciousness, language, and communication skills to create a
framework from which you can:
- express your feelings and needs with clarity and self-responsibility;
- listen to others’ feelings and needs with compassion and empathy;
- facilitate mutually beneficial outcomes for all parties involved.
To be mutually beneficial for all parties involved, it can help to remind oneself that the other person has a valid reason for their opinion, even if that opinion is based on faulty logic and incomplete information. Without judging the person harshly for their "wrong-headed ideas," one can compassionately fill them in on what they are missing, all the time keeping in mind that one is merely human and may also be missing an important point. Before doing that, it may help to find out on what their opinion is based.
Here are compassionate things people have said to me in an attempt to get at faulty underlying thinking:
- Can you explain why you think/say that?
- I can see why you would say [premise] but I'm not sure why you conclude [whatever I thought would inevitably follow].
- Let me see if I correctly understand. [Repeat what they think I'm saying. I confirm, or correct if they have it wrong.] I can see where you're coming from but [correct my thinking, which may require a lengthy conversation to fill me in on information I was unaware of, along with reading recommendations].
That opens conversation on the topic of disagreement in an agreeable manner. It may turn out that the person with the "faulty logic" or "wrong opinion" was not completely wrong at all, but had insight/concerns on an angle not previously considered. This NVC approach allows you to change your position without taking accusations of "being wrong." Together, the group of conversationalists can discuss the issues peacefully.
As stated in the opening of this answer, we are human and do not respond one hundred percent as desired at all times. Possibly some members of the conversation group will need a lot more time to think things through before they can accept some of the new propositions brought to light. They may have to "sleep on it" more than one night. It may even happen that someone decides to change sides. People have the right to do that, difficult as it may be on friendships and family ties. In the principles of NVC, we realize that for them it may be a matter of personal integrity. But so is it for us; we disagree on too a deep level to compromise.
At that point, it must be decided whether or not friendship can continue on another basis despite this disagreement. However, because of NVC, we do not also have to deal with feelings of anger, shame, and hatred. This makes it much easier to find a basis for continuing friendship in other interests and areas of life.