I brought up politics over cocktails and here’s what happened.
It was an experiment.
Pretty certain that the guy I was meeting with was on the other side of the political spectrum, I asked him what he thought about the election. Over the next half hour we had a spirited discussion about the players, major political issues and the state of the country. It got tense a couple of times, but I worked hard to guide the discussion along an understanding and respectful route.
The entire reason I brought it up was to see if there was any way to have a civilized discussion while being fairly certain that neither one of us was going to leave the conversation having changed positions.
The nastiness, name calling and stretching of the truth that spews forth from both sides would lead you to believe that civility is dead. I don’t believe that, but keeping things civil does require a few things.
How to Keep it Civil
- Self-control – When your position is attacked, your brain literally reacts as if you were being chased by a mad, hungry bear. Whatever you say in that moment is likely to be emotionally charged and likely regrettable. If you can hold your tongue for 10 seconds, another part of your brain kicks in that helps you react more thoughtfully and maturely.
- Willingness to admit the other opinion is valid – You may disagree with every fiber of your being. But remember, she disagrees with you with the same vehemence. Even though you can’t fathom how a reasonable person could believe what she believes, can you at least support her right to believe it?
- Respect – If you think he’s a mindless numbnut, he’s going to sense it. You can’t fake respect. If you can’t respect everything about him you have to find a nugget you can regard positively. If you can respect nothing can you work on getting him out of your life?
There aren’t many subjects more volatile than politics or religion so avoid those topics altogether. But the three requirements above are also relevant in business situations.
Civility in the Workplace
Anytime you find yourself on the opposite side of a colleague or a demanding client there’s much to gain by managing behavior and mindset to foster understanding and collaboration. At minimum you’ll prevent your head from exploding or your heart from going into cardiac arrest.