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Use civil discourse to enhance understanding and reach consensus

Civil discourse is more important than ever and should be embraced at every level of communication we do. This practice is a way to enhance understanding and look at what is being said objectively instead of passionately. With civil discourse, we can reach decisions, consensus, or the neutral position to “agree to disagree.”

The speed and access to communication platforms in today’s digital age seem to have enabled many current conversations to be more rhetoric-filled, offensive, combative, even rude and/or abusive. As a result, frustration and resentment can build up, creating a more divisive culture and ultimately – inaction. Anger-fueled conversations are a waste of time, energy, resources, and personal/peripheral stress of the ones who are arguing if no real solution becomes of it.

Dissenting opinions will always exist, but there are ways to address differing points of view that can be much more effective in determining a rational course of action. Instead of each party passionately holding their ground without regard to the other side and focusing on who will “win,” imagine the outcomes if each party allowed the other to make their point, listened carefully, and tried to first empathize and acknowledge what they heard before chiming in with why they feel differently. Both parties can weigh the balance of the conversation, and perhaps they can learn from each other and pave a mutual path based on the perspectives and evidence shared.

What is Civil Discourse?

According to the American University in Washington, DC civil discourse is:

• Truthful

• Productive

• Audience-based

• About listening and talking

• Each speaker’s own responsibility


Civil discourse does not inhibit free speech, nor does it censor opinions. Rather, it is a way for both sides to think critically, use their voices, engage in worthwhile conversations, listen to others, and be mindful architects of their thought contributions to their intended audiences.

The US Federal Courts have long-established ground rules to manage civil discourse and difficult decisions. The rules are intended to be practiced in courtrooms, during debates, and any situations where decisions need to be made after weighing aspects of all sides. One important callout is to not interrupt or talk over someone else who is speaking, even when you are excited about a topic. Other rules include listening for content, finding common ground, and calling attention to areas of agreement to strengthen the conversation. Also, it is important to be respectful – do not insult or demean others or become apathetic during the conversation if it happens to not support your position. Facts and opinions are both valid when expressed appropriately.

Where can I practice civil discourse?

Almost every communication situation is an opportunity to practice civil discourse! Try it today if you can. Start with topics that are easier for you and/or less contentious to get into the practice of constructive debate. Remember the critical element of disagreement must also be EMPATHY.

Here are some examples where you can practice civil discourse:


• Moving a project forward when facing pushback

• Justifying a proposed budgetary spend

• Hiring a candidate by committee



• Settling property disputes with a neighbor

• Diffusing arguments with your partner

• Negotiating with a child about why they should or should not have that piece of candy/toy/food right now



• Automobile or other accidents

• Public health and safety, especially during a pandemic

• Calling out and diffusing discriminations


Although civil discourse is grounded in mutual respect, it should not be mistaken as mere politeness. You can still express the points you feel strongly about, as long as it is rationally presented and civil in nature. Civil discourse is an effective and powerful practice to influence balanced and logical decision-making.

Thank you for reading and absorbing this perspective.

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