In martial arts we have a tradition of bowing to our opponent before we engage in combat. This bow is a genuine display of respect before we try to drive the other guy into the mat.
That might not be a bad ritual to introduce when two people are about to talk about politics.
We also bow after the match…and then we shake hands, grateful for the opportunity to test our skills against such a worthy opponent.
I don’t think most people are going to bow before they start a political rant at the office or before posting a snarky partisan comment on Facebook.
In the spirit of trying to preserve some measure of respect and civility with those who do not share your political perspective, here is some advice for conducting respectful conversations about politics at work, home, or anywhere else for that matter.
By the way- to my friends with differing political opinions. Please don’t mistake my refusal to engage in petulant streams of debate…
“Never mistake my kindness for weakness, nor my silence for ignorance.”
So- how do you express respect for someone who, in your opinion, is absolutely wrong? How do you respectfully defend or express your feelings on an issue in the face of anger, intolerance and even ignorance?
As part of my THINK Like a BLACK BELT for Respect & Civility in the Workplace program I do a session that focuses specifically on how to debate even political issues with respect. An old saying goes, “When you assume you only make an “ass” out of “u” and “me.” In reality, you do need to embrace 5 basic “AssUmptions (TM)” if you have any hope of debating a hot button issue respectfully and avoid making an ass out of yourself in the office!
#1: Assume that not everyone shares your point of view. It doesn’t matter if you’re right or wrong- you can assume not everyone will agree.
#2: Assume the other guy is entitled to his opinion- because he is!
#3: Assume that the other person has a rational reason for his opinion- whether he does or not! Until you fully engage in the debate you won’t know the rationale of the other person. If you don’t make this Ass-Umption, you’ll never know.
#4: Silence does not always confirm agreement. Don’t assume that because someone is staying quiet that they agree with you. It’s safer to assume that their mind is not made up. The other guy may think you’re a complete ass and is just too polite to tell you so!
#5: Assume that everyone IS entitled to two things: Their thoughts and their feelings. Thoughts and feelings are personal property whether you agree with those thoughts and feelings or not.
It’s difficult if not impossible to control emotions. Emotions are simply a physiological response to physical and psychological stimuli. What we can do is learn to control our response to those emotions. Self-control is a valuable tool for effective communication and respectful debate.
In right versus wrong issues it’s fairly simple, if not always easy to simply step up and present the facts. In most cases, a clear statement of reason will win the argument. When both sides have a legitimate claim to the right side of an argument, it’s extremely important to understand the oppositional perspective whether you agree or not.
Our most contentious issues are right versus right.
I’m all for open, passionate and even heated debate. We can express ourselves passionately without denigrating our opponent, using inflammatory language and insulting labels. To do so requires a high level of respect, self-control and strength. It requires strength, confidence and courage to acknowledge the right of another person to his or her opinion- even when they’re wrong and you’re right!
It seems like a long time since I made this short video on how to conduct respectful conversations in the office. I’ve become a bit more erasable since this was done, but you may still find this useful!
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