Can we agree to disagree in today’s political and social climate? Is this even possible as we dig into our ideologies and points of view? At Up with People we certainly think it is possible to respectfully disagree with others that share different points of view. This month Up with People is proud to announce that we are partnering with the National Institute for Civil Discourse to offer a “Revive Civility” class for secondary and university students. Led by Up with People cast members, students will spend these classes in small group discussions, listening across differences for understanding. The class teaches active listening skills and the chance to practice having a conversation with someone you disagree with in a respectful and civil manner. Thankfully, there are ‘best practices’ we can all follow for a more civil conversation. Let’s explore these valuable tools below…
Best Practices For Civil Discourse
Civility is the ability to disagree with others while respecting their sincerity and decency. The opposite of civility is incivility. According to our research, most people agree incivility includes personal insults, threatening physical harm and/or using racial, religious, ethnic or sexual slurs.
Find Commonalities First
- The foundation for a civil conversation is to see and hear the whole person in front of you, and not just the issue you disagree about. Start with finding common ground. Is there something in the person’s argument that you can relate to? Ask yourself, what else do you have in common with this person? Identifying these commonalities can ease tension and lead to better conversations.
Practice Active Listening
- Listen to understand, not to respond. While having a conversation, forget about planning what you want to say next. Take in every word, and listen for the meaning–including emotions and underlying values–behind the words.
- Repeating back what the person said is not intuitive–it is a valuable skill that needs practice. Your paraphrasing and repeating back actually helps the speaker know if they were clear and aids them in thinking deeper about the topic too. When they have said what they want to say, that is your cue to reply, “What I hear you saying is … Did I understand you correctly?”
Stay Focused Even On Hot Button Issues
- When your temperature rises and your heartbeat quickens it’s important to stay focused on the person and conversation. Maintain eye contact and focus on really listening.
- If you find yourself on the receiving end of pointed or aggressive questioning on an issue, respond with “Tell me more.” Aggressive questions are often rooted in the asker having a point to make, and they may not be ready to hear your response. The more you let them talk and share their view, the more they will be disarmed by your thoughtful attention. Your listening skills will de-escalate the situation, and give you a chance to truly understand why they might feel the way they do.
Allow For Periods of Silence
- Remember, the goal is not to speak the most. The goal is to listen and, when appropriate, respond from a calm place. Allowing for periods of silence allows others to feel that they have space and they are not being attacked.
Don’t Make It Personal
- If you get upset, it can help to remember you’re mad at the idea or concept, not the person. Too often people jump to personal attacks which can quickly derail a civil conversation.
Use “I” Statements To Communicate How You Feel And What You Think
- Using “you” statements can sound argumentative. For example, telling your mom or dad, “You always remind me about my chores on Wednesdays when you know I have a lot of homework” has a very different tone from “I’m feeling pressured because I have a lot of homework tonight. Can I do those chores tomorrow?”
Take the civility challenge! Listen to conversations around you and note the ways in which people are civil or uncivil. Reach out to someone you disagree with on a topic you both care about. Make the goal to get to know them better, and to listen to understand their perspective. Give yourself enough time and space to truly hear what they have to say.
If you’d like to try out our Revive Civility conversation, gather with a few friends and text Up with People to 89800. This starts a short series of texts to prompt discussion and give you a chance to practice your own active listening skills.