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It’s all too common to hear ‘be civil’ or ‘let’s remain civil’ during conversations in the polarized society we now live in. Conversations among friends, co-workers, strangers and even people online are smeared with disrespectful and impolite responses to what would have been an otherwise interesting conversation. Some people do not even remember how to have a polite conversation.
Many people feel that if you disagree with them, you must not like them. Indeed, people are not in the habit of always agreeing with people they don’t like; nevertheless, all opinions should be treated on their merit, based on the truth they convey. People react impolitely to discussions when they feel attacked, offended, or unfairly criticized.
Many people cannot handle any form of criticism. Where constructive criticism is positive and usually encouraged, destructive criticism is negative and generally discouraged. To excel at civil discourse, you must learn how to react to destructive criticism. Responding properly and effectively to destructive criticism will help you better engage in civil discourse and even help protect you at your workplace. How does one effectively respond to destructive criticism?
Reacting Appropriately To Destructive Criticism
Destructive criticism is usually a trigger to impolite conversations. However, if properly managed, the discourse can remain civil, and everyone can gain from the benefits of civil discourse. When you receive destructive criticism, taking a moment before replying is crucial. Admittedly, this might be hard, but if you’re to maintain a civil discourse, you have to take time to respond carefully. This way, the issue will not escalate. You could also:
→ Act and Adjust
If you receive destructive criticism, you should check if genuine criticism is masked by destructive criticism. If there is, you can use it to illustrate the importance of giving constructive feedback, not negative ones. Show the person giving the criticism how it should be done by extracting constructive feedback from the destructive criticism and help the recipient understand the various ways they can offer value to the discourse.
→ Understand the Context
To tackle destructive criticism, you should know why it happened and the context of the message. Listen patiently to what the speaker is saying and examine the context of the information to determine the best way to respond and calm the offended person. When you have examined and discovered that it is indeed destructive criticism and that you didn’t understand it out of context, you should shut down the destructive criticism immediately so that a culture of destructive criticism is not allowed to develop in the group.
→ Assess the Criticism
Assessing the criticism is important to determine if there is a valid point hidden away in the poor delivery. Both constructive and destructive criticism can be useful in reaching a common goal. However, it is important to consider where the criticism is coming from.
Assuming the speaker is not on good terms with their team member. In that case, there’s a possibility that the destructive criticism might be coming from a place of anger. Even if the criticism has some element of validity, the bad delivery might be a response to the hostility between them.
Mastering the appropriate response to destructive criticism is crucial in engaging in civil discourse. When destructive criticism is not properly handled, it could make the conversation unfriendly. Nevertheless, how does one maintain civil discourse after destructive criticism has been handled?
Tips for Engaging In Civil Discourse
In order to have productive and meaningful conversations, we must engage in civil discourse. This means we should treat others respectfully, listen to them attentively, and be willing to compromise. To do this, we need to be aware of our own biases and assumptions and work to set them aside. Here are a few tips for engaging in civil discourse:
→ Promote Open Dialogue
For civil discourse to thrive, an environment should be created where diverse opinions can exist without fear of the discourse turning uncivil. In the workplace, this starts with the managers. The managers shouldn’t shut down a different opinion. Rather it should be analyzed to see its merits. Among friends or family, a ground rule should be set by the moderator to ensure that everyone’s opinion is given a fair hearing.
→ Listen Actively
A Conversation is the exchange of ideas and viewpoints between two or more people. This conversation will not be honest or fruitful if no one listens to the other’s points. Active listening is a method of listening and replying to the speaker that improves mutual understanding. Most people listen passively. They hear what the person is saying but are not actively listening. This is called passive listening and can lead them to misunderstand what the person is saying, leading to disagreements and quarrels.
→ Set Boundaries
Setting firm boundaries before a discourse starts is important in maintaining a civil dialogue. A set of guidelines like no interruption, no shouting, no personal attacks, no insults, etc., can be crucial in maintaining the civility of the conversation. Also, participants must state subjects they’re unwilling to discuss or topics they feel strongly about. This will help regulate the flow of the conversation.
Engaging in civil discourse is a necessity in our society. Sadly, many people lack this skill. People do not know how to respond properly to destructive criticism so that the conversation doesn’t become impolite. However, by applying the tips above, civil discourse can thrive even after poorly delivering criticism. Also, the above tips on engaging in civil discourse will improve the civil discourse skills of anyone looking to develop their skills.