“I don’t know, maybe it’s OK to end a relationship in order to stand up for what you believe in,” stated my friend Patte. Later that day, I found I was still thinking about her remark. I asked her what prompted the statement. She explained that she is a minority; a woman and a Jew. She was hoping that a friend of hers on Facebook would understand her feelings and denounce the neo-Nazi group that had protested in Charlottesville; instead the friend defended the group’s actions. Patte said to me, “Amy, can you imagine, people were wearing swastikas just a week ago!”

Whereas ending a relationship is one option, there are others. And if a person is a colleague, customer or neighbor, ending a relationship may not be possible. To open up other options, civil dialogue is necessary.

Patte was hurt. About this friend, Patte said, “This is a statement about her character. She couldn’t even take a second to hear what I had to say. She only defended herself.” Patte only wanted her friend to hear her out and acknowledge her experience. Had the friend done so, Patte probably wouldn’t have decided her friend had a character flaw.

Three Possible Responses

However, the friend probably wasn’t lacking in character but more likely lacking the skills necessary for staying in productive dialogue. Whether it is online or in-person, when someone says something hurtful, there are three possible responses:

  1. Passive – remain silent, which suggests that you agree with what was said;
  2. Aggressive – lash out with a counter attack; or
  3. Assertive – affirm the other person’s experience or feelings and set boundaries.

An assertive message may sound like, “I’m hurt by what you said. You’re important to me so I don’t want to lash out. I need to take space to let my heart heal. We can talk at a later time.”

My sister, Social Media Expert Anne Collier, told me that this can be said online or in-person. However, she suggested that it may be best to say this in a direct message so it does not look like a public rebuke. Both in person and on social media, a one-on-one message encourages further dialogue.

Three Steps We Can Take

In order to encourage civil dialogue, it’s important to:

  1. Acknowledge that our colleague or neighbor may have another perspective or experience, even if it’s different from our own;
  2. Accept the difference without judgment – the differences just are, without being right or wrong or good or bad;
  3. Act by affirming the other person’s experience, though not your own. This is done through active listening, a skill defined in my previous blog. Active listening does not indicate agreement, just understanding. And it’s through deep listening that we learn others’ stories and may discover common interests or concerns that are the basis for dialogue.

Questions that Promote Self-awareness

Civil discourse is the foundation for any productive personal or professional relationship. Before my friend, Pastor AmyRuth Bartlett, enters into what she perceives as a tricky conversation, she reflects on these questions:

  • Am I safe with this person?
  • Do I want to have compassion for this person?
  • Am I frustrated with him or her or someone else, in a way that I might take it out on the person?
  • Am I looking for a Higher Power to show up and open doors to give me clarity and wisdom?
  • Am I willing to have a conversation that goes nowhere?

These questions reveal a level of self-awareness that is essential if we are going to enter into productive dialogue that can potentially build truer, long-term relationships. Although initially hard because of the vulnerability we may feel, a willingness to learn and be open provides an opportunity for new and deeper relationships that we may not have ever experienced before.

In work and personal relationships, productivity and enjoyment are lost when there is an inability to have civil dialogue. Passively ignoring or tolerating people and systems may seem like the right thing to do in the short term, but we have to wonder if resentment toward this person or system is quietly building up over time, causing us to sacrifice peace, enjoyment and productivity. If so, we can step into the waters of civil discourse, which may lead to a better collaboration and innovation, and even more meaningful friendship. -AN

To attract and retain productive people, leaders need to create a culture of safety and belonging. With a PhD in Adult Education, Amy works with CEO’s, management teams and those who want to take the lead in organizations to effectively implement the tools for cultural competency, collaboration, and innovation. To increase client diversity and workplace productivity, profit and personal job satisfaction, contact Amy