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Eight Ways to Improve Civil Discourse

Most people want peace and harmony despite a person's nationality, religious preferences, age, occupation, education, and skin color. We desire a safe environment in the workplace, school, and our communities. Most will agree that the level of incivility in recent years is toxic, although it can be difficult to measure or define how prevalent it is. Opinions will differ between victims, perpetrators, and observers. However, incivility must be challenged. To do so, it has to be identified and talked about openly.

At a time when our ideological divides can seem overwhelming, how do we maintain civility? Below are five basic steps.

Listen and Ask Questions

Listening is being able to repeat back what you just heard. You can say something like, “So if I hear you correctly, what you are saying is . . .

Don’t assume that you know what someone else means. Ask questions to help you understand perspectives different from your own.

Be Respectful

A civil discussion is one where we exchange diverse ideas respectfully. Approach a discussion with the objective of collecting information about the other person’s perspective and the factors that have prompted them to their conclusions, even though you may disagree.

Demonstrate Empathy

The root of many contentious relationships is a presupposition that the other side neither understands nor cares about the feelings or opinions of the other party, probably due to previous experiences. Showing understanding is not the same as agreement. Demonstrating that you understand their position and the reasons they have come to their conclusions allows you to proceed without emotional baggage. It also places the focus on the issue, rather than the two parties, so you can work together to arrive at a mutually satisfactory conclusion.

Tell me more

When you hear someone say something you disagree with or don’t understand, ask them to tell you more about their way of thinking rather than getting into an argument. Elaborating on an idea will either show it is for what it is – a bad idea, or it may start to persuade you that the person has a point.

Stick to the subject:

Whenever the conversation drifts away from the topic, someone needs to bring it back to the subject.

Practice Win-Win Negotiation

Agreements are not the result of one side winning. Most issues, even the most contentious, encompass a wide range of needs and priorities. Identify and call attention to areas of agreement. Finding common ground helps both parties feel the sense and belief that their needs are met.

Disengage When Necessary

There are times when the other party is so adamant about their position, unwilling even to consider your perspective and needs. Rather than endure personal attacks, discomfort, and anger, walk away and delay your efforts to have a positive discussion until another time.

Meet with people face-to-face:

Our cyber world has led to much incivility and created a distance in relationships. People are more willing to say things in an e-mail and on social media sites than they would in a face-to-face conversation. This only exasperates the problems

A little civility can go a long way and is essential in building stronger relationships and improving our communities and political system.

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