Where’s the Civility?
It’s hard not to notice the lack of civility and the growing political rift in this country. Even though we are over 100 days in, the gap between left and right has created a lot of tension and raw emotions. Personally, I find civility to be very challenging; I feel such enormous passion. Sometimes, I fail and I find myself getting dragged into a Facebook argument or a shouting match with people who see things differently. But, I know that it doesn’t serve me well and I strive to control my emotions regularly. (On the bright side, however, it may be ushering in a golden age of comedy. “Saturday Night Live” and the late-night talk shows are seeing higher ratings and relevance.)
The Divide is Real
All laughs aside, it can be a difficult time for personal as well as business relationships. Often, we find ourselves in charged conversations with people with diametrically opposed positions. And it’s getting ugly out there. How divided are we? According to the report “Civility in America: 2016,” most Americans, 69 percent, say civility is a problem, with three-quarters (74 percent) saying civility has declined in the past few years. Additionally, 70 percent say that incivility in this country has risen to “crisis” levels, up from 65 percent in 2014.
It doesn’t have to be that way. We can take some ownership and cut through the conflict with meaningful conversations and through creating an atmosphere where differences can be aired constructively. And with civility. (Trust me on this one, it works when you can manage it.)
Embrace the opportunity to hear another point of view — (I have begun to understand how others perceive things by listening. I still may not agree, but I feel less frustration when I at least understand.)
The good news is that we can learn a lot from conversations where we don’t see eye to eye—provided we listen and talk rationally. These 10 tips can help keep disagreements constructive, whether you’re talking to a business associate, a longtime friend or that person you’re on the verge of unfriending on Facebook.
- Confront issues, not people. Don’t make it personal. Remember, you’re mad at the concept or idea the other person is raising, not your friend, coworker or customer; although difficult, this one is critical.
- Take a deep breath.Process your emotions. Step back if you need to in the name of civility. A calm, measured response delivered later is almost always better than an immediate tactless response. Your reactions are conscious choices. Make the right ones.
- Sarcasm and insults aren’t your friends. Don’t put down the other person’s ideas. Instead of belittling by saying “that’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard, and I’ve been a lot of places,” try a more measured approach, such as: “I don’t agree, and here’s why.” Getting angry or sarcastic lessens your ability to convey your points.
- Model civility you’ve experienced first-hand.Who’s the most diplomatic person you know? How might he or she handle this situation? Of course, it’s hard to stay calm and rational when you feel angry or passionate about something—especially if the other person gets heated. You may need to step up and be mature.
- Be respectful by asking questions.Counter the negativity by asking the other person to explain more about his or her feelings. Chances are past experiences are shaping those views. Learning about that viewpoint can help you craft a more meaningful response.
- Listen. Seriously, listen. Listening in itself helps to bridge differences—and it builds civility. The more you listen, the more likely the other person will do the same for you. Focus on what’s being said. When it’s your turn to talk, repeat any key points the other person made to show you heard what was said. Then calmly present your case and why you disagree.
- Get off your soapbox.Don’t get preachy. If your goal is persuasion, the other person is likely to resist. Make it a conversation, not a conversion. (REALLY HARD)
- Common ground is not uncommon. As difficult as this sounds, and I know it sounds difficult, try to find positive common ground. Sometimes it’s as easy as recognizing the person’s passion and civility. Circumstances, time or attitude mean that we may not see eye to eye, but we can find ways to be respectful and supportive.
- Agree to disagree. It is important to remember that sometimes we can’t completely resolve the issue; and that’s ok. Reasonable people can disagree and hopefully still remain civil.
Don’t be discouraged.
Sometimes you’re just planting a seed, keep in mind that an idea may take the time to take root. When you’re passionate about something, sometimes the best thing you can do is stick to your path and let the other person see that you not only believe the idea, but you also live it.
I’m curious, how do you practice civility in emotionally charged situations? We’d love to hear your strategies, too.
Source: Civility in America: 2016 from global communications and engagement firm Weber Shandwick, public affairs firm Powell Tate and KRC Research
Cynthia Corsetti is an Executive Coach and Speaker. If you’d like to learn more on how her C.A.R.E. to Engage system can help you create an engaged workforce in your organization, you can email her at: firstname.lastname@example.org
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