Civility and frankness are not mutually exclusive

I find it interesting when I get push back as folks ask why should we be civil when the other side is not? Often I respond with the simple retort – civility and frankness are not mutually exclusive. One can push back without taking the other person’a head off.

I am reminded of the story of a black man who has been able to change the mindset of more than 200 KKK members. In so doing, he collects their robes. Now, the KKK is as extreme a white supremacist group as there is. How did he do it? He spoke civilly toward them asking a few questions. He listened to their answers. Then, he asked pertinent follow-up questions. Eventually, the KKK members saw the logic of his argument. He says people just want to be heard.

Diplomacy is an art. It is a way of understanding people, but being forthright with what you believe and want. In essence, it is precisely what this black man did in speaking with the KKK members. He did not shout. He did not tell them they were wrong or bad people. He started conversations and listened to them. Then, he asked questions in follow-up. He heard them which allowed them to hear him.

A few diplomatic phrases might be beneficial. You might ask, “Help me understand why you would say that?” Or, you could use a more unnerving statement like, “I understand your points, but I do not find them to be entirely true.” Or, you could say, “I have not heard that before; tell me where did you read that?” Or, you might say, “that used to be true, but is no longer.”

Tone matters. The more measured you are, the better chance your points will be heeded. If you raise your voice, expect it in return. Avoid the use of labels and name-calling. When I hear labels, it means the other person’s arguments are not as well-grounded. Labels are short cuts to convey a derogatory meaning to less informed people. As with shouting, name-calling begets name-calling.

In today’s America, we are less civil. The current President did not invent uncivil behavior nor did he invent stretching the truth. A way to convey a position without attacking one of his fans might be “I wish the President would not tweet as much as he is hurting his message.” Another is “I wish the President would not demean people when they are critical of his efforts.” I wish the President would reconsider the tariffs he placed on our allies.” Or, “I wish he would not stretch the truth like he does.”

I am far from perfect and my poor wife hears the more unvarnished version of what I type and say. But, I will leave with one final thought I have noted before. If you want your children to really hear you, whisper.

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