Some of the best things in business – and life – can come out of an ethos of curiosity, questioning and disagreement. You can’t have progress, innovation or positive change if you’re not willing to challenge conventional thinking and stir up the occasional healthy debate.
What doesn’t work is when you couple disagreement with disrespect. And don’t we see a lot of that lately?
Trump is modelling this communication style for all the world to see. But you don’t have to turn on Fox News to experience the phenomenon. Go onto a community Facebook page and it won’t take long to find an example.
I think we – as a society in general – have lost the art of disagreement. So many people can’t seem to agree to disagree, have a respectful exchange and walk away friends. And it really goes pear-shaped when debate goes online and becomes impersonal.
I say, let’s put respect back into disagreement and dispose of disrespect: #disthedis.
But – wait - why is a PR consultant talking about the art of disagreement? Because it’s at the heart of so much of our work, particularly when it comes to helping clients navigate tricky issues.
And while my human nature wants to shout a loud, “What the?” when irrational, disrespectful comments are hurled, I’m mandated to do the opposite. I’ve signed up to the PR Institute of NZ’s Code of Ethics which states that I will “respect the rights of others to have their say.” And my advice to clients helps them to live this out.
So, where do we start? How do you respectfully agree to disagree, especially when you are fervently opposed to someone’s views? Here are eight communications courtesies to remember:
Use your ears more than your lips. It’s a 2:1 organ ratio for a reason - use them twice as much.
Ask yourself if you’d kiss your mum with that mouth. If you wouldn’t say it to her, find better words.
Can your partner or kids hear your keyboard keys from the other room (as smoke drifts upward out of your ears)? You might want to walk away and cool down before you hit the send button.
Is your incongruous reply targeting the person or the viewpoint? Resist the temptation to call someone an idiot (or imply it). In the words of Thumper, “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say nothing at all.”
Acknowledge before you blurt. This is a great technique that takes the sting out of a retort: “That’s a different point of view, and perhaps another angle to consider might be . . .”
Remember EQ is more important than IQ. Just because you know a lot about a subject, doesn’t mean you’ve earned a pass on politeness.
Before you post something online, ask yourself, “Would you say it to their face?” Don’t let absence breed cowardice.
Celebrate difference. Thank goodness there are people in this world who have completely different views than you. It makes life interesting.
So, remember, #disthedis. Welcome debate. Enjoy some robust repartee. And all the while, be mindful to communicate in a way that keeps respect at the forefront.