Is civil discourse dead? Weakened from lack of use?
Civil discourse may be hard to find these days, with uncivil conversations taking over on social media and elsewhere. But I want to believe that we can revive it, if we want it badly enough, and so I do. It’s a choice I make.
I hope I’m right.
As I mentioned in last week’s post, Civil Discourse in a New Age, I came up with this somewhat hokey LEAP FROG model to help those of us just starting out in practicing civil discourse. I have no idea if it’ll be helpful, but it will at least help us structure a conversation ABOUT civil discourse and that is a start.
Before I go any further, here are the institutes and programs (and one book) currently focusing on civil discourse that I used in putting my acronym together. In among all the bandwidth given to helping HR folks and managers deal with conflict among their employees, I did find some nuggets, and here they are, for those of you interested in further study.
Click here for RESOURCES for Civil Discourse:
Holly Weeks’ Failure to Communicate (Harvard Business Review Press, 2010)
National Institute for Civil Discourse at the University of Arizona
The Scheinman Institute on Conflict Resolution, at Cornell University
OK, now let’s move on to LEAP FROG
There are four parts to LEAP — Listen, Empathize, Assess, Present — and together, they comprise one turn. As in any game of leap frog, the participants do their part over and over and over and over again.
Civil discourse begins with listening.
This is so important and yet, how do we learn to listen and listen well? How do we even know if we are listening well? If the Other person feels heard?
So, I Googled it. Turns out many folk out there study listening. Suffice it to say that we are NOT interested here in the kind of listening you might have done in your college World History class. No; you will not be tested on what you hear.
Instead, we are interested in what everyone calls EMPATHETIC listening. It’s the kind therapists do (hopefully). It’s the kind that enables us to connect with each other.
I like to think of this type of listening as a gift I can give the other person. And vice versa. How often do any of us get the opportunity to be listened to, fully, compassionately, and without interruption?
Back to our dyad about to hold a difficult conversation.
Sometimes it is obvious who speaks first in this conversation; sometimes the two of you will have to decide. I don’t know that it matters how you come to find yourself in a conversation with someone with whom you disagree. Sometimes the setting is informal; sometimes it’s formal. Sometimes it’s spontaneous; sometimes it’s planned.
And remember Steven Covey’s admonition (Habit #5):
Seek first to understand, then to be understood.
Listening starts with cultivating an attitude of curiosity.
Listen quietly, without interruption. Ask questions during this stage only for the purpose of clarifying your understanding.
If it helps, pretend you are interviewing an ET.
What are the values and priorities on that planet?
How do certain events affect him or her?
What is critical (and most difficult) is to keep yourself from offering solutions, conclusions, judgments, or arguments. There will be a time to present your views, and it is not now. Instead,
- Acknowledge as much as you can, understanding that acknowledging is not the same as agreeing. For example, try using “This sounds really important to you.”
- Let the Other know what you’ve heard. Summarize and repeat as needed.
- Ask questions only to help clarify.
I posted this image just to help us remember why we are doing this. We’ll come back to LEAP in two weeks with the E (Empathy — an important part of listening with your heart).
In the meantime, do you consider yourself a good listener? Why or why not? What challenges do you see in simply listening as a first step in a difficult conversation?
March 8: International Women’s Day
March 15: E is for Empathy, back to LEAP FROG
March 22: P is for Present
March 29: The FROG part