Election years are often characterized by a general decline in civility and a certain amount of polarization, both on the part of candidates and those who support them. As a society we’ve come to expect, and sometimes accept, this dynamic. But, more and more, it seems that the decline in civility has extended beyond the realm of politics into our everyday lives, including our business interactions. Who hasn’t been on the receiving end of less than polite emails or struggled through contentious meetings? We may have done some offending ourselves.
Has our cultural need to win every argument and promote our point of view at any cost created an environment in which civil discourse is considered outdated or unnecessary? I don’t think so. I think civility and an open mind are more necessary and welcome than ever, especially in business where success often depends on a respectful and productive exchange of ideas and fair negotiation.
Civil discourse is an objective, mutually respectful exchange intended to communicate ideas, perspectives, information or direction without any intent to belittle, judge or criticize. Seems simple enough. So why is it so difficult to accomplish?
It’s difficult because it’s easy to take a “you vs me” approach to communicating what we want or to assume that the person we are negotiating with is operating from self-interest alone. A respectful conversation takes effort. You have to listen, accommodate and engage with an open mind. We’re all in a hurry, trying to fit our messages into 144 character limits while we juggle competing tasks.
In the field we work in, marketing and advertising, mutual agreement is critical to the success of our projects and to the well-being of our relationships with colleagues and clients. The give and take of ideas and reaching of consensus on objectives and how best to meet them requires open, reasoned discussion. The best solutions come out of this type of collaborative dialogue.
I once received the advice to “take the high ground when standing your ground”. Seems like sound advice – and not only in election years!
How have you handled experiences of incivility in your business? What have you found that works and what didn’t work as well?