Remember civil conversations? Here’s how to have one (even online). Civility seems to have gone out the window with the advent of the internet, and this year has shown all of us how rude people can be to one another. Remember the days when you could have a difference of opinion with someone and not be publicly called out for it? Remember the days when you could be someone’s friend and not share their political or social issue beliefs? I remember. But it saddens and frustrates me that, more and more, people are acting ugly, hateful, even cruel to each other for simply holding different convictions.
Personally, I love to engage in conversations with people who have different beliefs than I do. But it can be disheartening and frustrating when that conversation turns sour. Fortunately, there are several things you can do to make sure you are doing your best to carry a civil, respectful, and productive conversation with someone who may not believe the same things you do.
5 Tips for Engaging in Civil Conversations
Here are several tips for engaging in a civil conversation, even if it’s online.
Is it worth it to engage?
Before you even start a conversation or comment on someone’s post, ask yourself, “Is this really worth it?” Because, 9 out of 10 times, it won’t be. You’re unlikely to change the mind of the person whom you are engaging with, and it may even cause a disagreement that will end up going nowhere. However, if you decide that engaging in the conversation is worth it, be aware that even if you are certain not to change anyone’s mind, your opinion may help another reader develop their own thoughts and ideas about the subject. So engage as if you are there to teach, not to argue. In my opinion, teaching is always a worthy endeavor.
Be polite and aware of your language with conversations.
I will be the first to admit that I have a hard time with this one. By nature, I am a very blunt and sarcastic person. I am also a trained attorney, so I am good at debate and have no problem engaging in one. But I often forget that my “tone of voice” in a world where tone cannot be heard may be translated into rudeness. Make an extra effort to be polite and kind. Also, be aware of the language you use and how it may come off as offensive of brusque. And certainly, never resort to name-calling or demeaning language. There’s never a good excuse for that nonsense.
In conversations, listen to the other point and acknowledge it.
Most people do not know how to listen to understand. Instead, most people will listen to a point only in preparation to debate it. Doing this will quickly cause a conversation to deteriorate because neither party will feel heard. Practice listening (or reading, as the case may be) to understand your opponent’s point of view. Maybe even summarize it to make sure you understood, such as, “Amy, let me make sure I understood what you said. You said…”. And if the person makes a point you hadn’t thought of or you agree with, say so! Nothing is more validating to a person than having her thoughts heard and acknowledged.
Look for common ground.
You may not see eye to eye with a person’s opinions, but if you look hard enough, I bet you can find some shared beliefs. Remember, a person is passionate about their opinions because of some deep-seated value or belief. Most people don’t have convictions about something they couldn’t care less about. So look for the common thread. For instance, if you are in a heated debate about public school versus homeschool, the common thread is that you both love your children more than anything and want the best for their education. That’s something you both can definitely agree on.
Back off gracefully if necessary.
Unfortunately, more often than not these days, one of you will have to be able to back off gracefully from the conversation if it becomes too heated. Let that person be you. Remind yourself that you’re not here to “win” or “prove” anything. You’re here to simply state your belief and let others do the same. If the dialog starts becoming disrespectful or rude, simply say, “I can see further conversation is probably not going to benefit anyone, but I really appreciate you sharing your opinion with me and I wish you the best!” And then stop engaging. Seriously. Just walk away and go on with your day.
It is sad that during one of the hardest years in any of our lives, there has been more rudeness and hateful words thrown at each other simply because we have different opinions. If we want to change this kind of behavior, it really has to start with us. Despite what the “other guy” says or the way he or she acts, it is our personal responsibility to respond with love, grace, peace, patience, and understanding. By doing so, maybe, just maybe, you will be an inspiration to another person to try to do the same.