With the increasing clash of cultures and extremely polarized views, civility in conversations has taken the back seat. What we now have is abusive, disruptive, and offensive conversations.
Discussions these days are no longer focused on understanding one another. Instead, everybody wants to force their opinion on the other. If you do not agree with a particular point of view, you are viewed as an enemy deserving of all disrespect.
We now come out of discussions learning nothing new and feeling worse off than before engaging in the conversation. But it doesn’t have to be so we can have civil conversations about even the most controversial topics.
People now tend to shy away from conversations about certain topics due to fear of being misunderstood or the conversation denigrating to insults and abuse.
But shying away from conversations is not the solution. We are social beings, and as such, we will continuously interact with our fellow humans whether they share the same values, beliefs, culture, or ideas with us or not.
We have reached these heights as a society because we are willing to dissect, debate, criticize and discuss ideas, beliefs, and values politely. We are not going to stop now, no matter how polarized our views seem to be. If we’re looking at how to find common ground, and improve mutual respect and understanding, then engaging in civil discourse is our surest way. We can only achieve that by working on our conversation skills and attitudes.
The following tools can help to improve understanding and respect when engaging in civil discourse.
Be Mindful of Your Words
Whether discussing with friends or speaking with colleagues or employees, it is advisable to guard against offensive words. Even if you disagree with their views, it is important to remain respectful and focus on the topic of discussion and not the person.
For instance, if a junior colleague brings to your notice something they regard as a problem, instead of laughing it off, you can start by praising them for caring enough to bring the matter to your notice, then explain how the complaint is not a problem, and then thank them and inform them that they’re welcome to bring their complaints to you.
With this approach, the person will feel respected and more willing to contribute to the company’s development. This approach is for more than just work environments. It is also useful in your personal relationships with others. The way you reply to a question, suggest an alternative point or correct someone determines the manner of response you get the most time.
So begin by showing respect, and you will see it reciprocated by everyone. It can even create an environment where respect and thoughtful words thrive.
Shelve Your Bias
One of the reasons why conversations become abusive is because people approach conversations with bias and a closed mindset. Suppose you don’t view conversations as a way to widen your horizon and learn new things. In that case, it will be hard to consider and nearly impossible to accept what the other person is saying.
To improve the chances of having a civil discourse, you must forget your biases and have an open mind. It is a mark of intelligence to consider an alternative view without accepting it. When you approach conversations with curiosity and open-mindedness, there’ll be less misunderstanding and increased chances of understanding. Even if you do not agree with the views shared, the conversations can still end on a civil note, and you can part with mutual respect.
Active listening is a crucial skill that can improve understanding and mutual respect during conversations. Active listening involves giving full and undivided attention to the speaker. It means that when the speaker is talking, you are listening and not thinking of the best response or counterarguments to provide. Active listening also includes asking clarifying questions to show that you truly understand what the speaker is saying and using body language cues to indicate that the speaker is communicating.
When you actively listen to the speaker, you minimize the chances of a misunderstanding occurring during the conversation. A discussion devoid of misunderstanding and abuse usually leads to civil discourse and increased understanding.
If you’re passionate about conversations remaining civil, then you must not encourage insults, no matter how negligible during conversations. When anyone strays from the topic of discourse, hurls personal attacks, or insults their opponents, it is necessary to ensure the person apologizes immediately.
This way, there will be no resentment, and the conversation will not end up in abuse and insults. Having zero tolerance for insults also ensures that the conversation remains peaceful.
When the above techniques are regularly used, the chances of a civil conversation increase. Conversations are the gateway to understanding other people, cultures, and how they think; therefore, they must remain civil. With civil discourse, we’ll be able to come out from even the most controversial discussion and still return respect for each other.