A few weeks ago, something happened that made me start to consider the concept of civility. I honestly don’t recall what triggered the thought in my mind, but it could have been any number of things. One thing did become apparent to me. Civility is a virtue that protects tolerance. Tolerance not only allows us to speak our minds, but also disagree, while continuing to share space in this world in a productive manner.
Civility is at the foundation of change, growth, and learning. However, it seems seldom practiced in business, life and least of all politics. How many times during our professional life do we disagree with someone about their stance and take an uncivil approach to try to get our point across? Admittedly, no one likes disagreement or tension, yet we often deal with these in ways that only escalate the disagreement and tension. When we take a civil approach by deescalating our language and not making it personal, we will find that the disagreements become tolerable. Once they become tolerable, we stand a better chance of resolving them productively through socially responsible behavior. Have you ever noticed that when two people with opposing views on an issue get into a highly contentious conversation, that the practice of civility by just one of the individuals can significantly influence and guide the conversation to a place of productivity?
Imagine how much more productive (and enjoyable) our days would be if we stepped away from our focus on our ‘rightness’ and practiced a little humility, thus allowing a much more open space for the exchange of ideas. While I am still a work in progress on this process there are three things I try to keep top of mind when engaging in discourse.
First, speak to the topic or issue at hand without muddying the waters with new issues. Next, don’t let the beginning of your sentence interrupt the middle of someone else’s (i.e. let others finish talking, before responding). Stephen R. Covey, author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, stated this perfectly. “Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.” We should listen to the points that others make and be guided by their input, rather than quickly state our predetermined response. Finally, take an approach of being in support of an issue as opposed to being against it. This will naturally curb the behavior of attacking an individual or their opinions, and guide the conversation toward civility.
Never underestimate how a little civility with a dose of humility, both professionally and personally, will ensure the space we share physically, emotionally, and intellectually is better tomorrow than it is today. I welcome your thoughts and comments, as long as they are civil.