As we enter the final stages of election season, it’s easy to see that civility appears to be declining. Cruel words are often intentional, especially on today’s political stage where we try to build ourselves up by tearing others down. We disagree so violently that respect flies out the window and we don’t care that our vitriol is hurting someone else. When demonstrated by our leaders, animosity seems normal and intolerance is acceptable. This lack of civility leaps off that political stage and into our every day lives as citizens.
No one is immune from using unkind words or actions. We all have examples of a time we have treated someone with disrespect. It might be a heated argument about an issue facing our community and quickly dismissing the other point of view and the person attached to it. It could be that we are so deeply offended that we completely close our ears and our minds, unintentionally making an enemy out of a friend.
As Leadership Montana alumni, we know how to model civility, even in uncivil times. It starts with deeply listening and entering a conversation with an open-mind, suspending our judgment just for a moment, and searching for that common ground. When we sit across the table or stand on that political stage and we’re yelling at each other, we can’t hear the message under the words. We can’t find the common ground. We can’t build the relationship. We can’t work together to make our community better.
We know how to listen with the intent to understand, not just to respond. This applies at work, at home, and in community meetings. To be a good listener, we must be present, be patient and kind. Remove distractions. Be open to what the other is saying, even when you disagree. Taking a moment to respond signals that you truly are purposefully listening and not simply formulating your response while the other is sharing.
This is so hard to do, I know. But the good news is we have frequent opportunities to practice – and they are everywhere. If we can all invest time to more deeply listen to each other, our society would be so much stronger, and our time well spent.
Have you recently had a conversation where your Gracious Space and civility skills were tested? How did you respond? What was the outcome? Tell me more…