Civility in Crisis: Reversing Discourteous Dialogue Amid Discord

Civility in Crisis: Reversing Discourteous Dialogue Amid Discord

More and more, people seem to be taking sides, whether it is left against right, religion against religion, or nation against nation, via boots on the ground and through economic means. Discord seems to be everywhere. In this guest feature, the author Milan Kordestani offers his views on finding the middle ground.

All one needs to do is watch the news on their television (in certain countries), open a newspaper or browse the feed on their social media, and undoubtedly, they will come across something that is in stark contrast to their views, needs and beliefs.

Much of the recent independent media headlines have been dominated by the battle between those with strict and vocal left and right-leaning views, which probably only make up 10 per cent of the general population on either side. The remainder, the vast majority, for the time being, are content to remain silent, letting things go in return for a less combative and simpler life. The big problem arises when the majority decides to join in with something they disagree with, as seen recently across France.

In recent times, society has become increasingly polarised and divided, and cultural cordiality is in crisis in both personal and professional lives. Without the learned ability to communicate effectively and respectfully, avoidable strife will continue to spur needless discord, and something that is exacerbating the issue is digital media consumption.

The front cover of Milan's bookSo profound the problem, Milan Kordestani, author of the new book, “I’m Just Saying: A Guide to Maintaining Civil Discourse in an Increasingly Divided World,” is elevating the global conversation and taking this issue head-on.

Below is a straightforward look at eight distinct areas Kordestani believes challenge and critically undermine the art of maintaining courteous communication in a world struggling with the ability to listen—along with his tactical tips for constructive conversations at work, home and socially through civil discourse.

The Challenge: So many of us today find ourselves overbooked and overwhelmed, leaving little time to explore why civil discourse has decayed in our lives. The importance of reflection in crafting civil discourse cannot be overstated.

With reflection, we have a way of understanding why we are engaging in discourse, and we can reflect on our behaviour during debates and discussions. Yet, reflection can be challenging, time-consuming and stressful as we uncover harsh truths and accept criticisms about ourselves.

The Resolution: Reflection is a process that takes time and conscious effort, and one’s biases and intentions become more apparent with reflection. It’s vital to accept criticism as a part of growth and to reflect critically on one’s own thoughts through meditation and contemplation. While examining the challenge of self-reflection and exploring the nature of bias, Plato’s “The Allegory of the Cave” can help us understand why we develop biases and how they affect our interactions.

For example, we may begin a discussion with someone assuming they do not know about a topic just because they lack a degree or career experience in that field. But, our own bias in that situation—just like in Plato’s cave—is causing us to disregard the valid ideas and knowledge that a person has to share.

Beyond Western stoicism, we can also apply Eastern philosophies to achieve optimal personal growth. One great way is to embrace the Japanese concept of kaizen, or continuous improvement, which can promote incremental growth and steady progress toward self-development goals.

Zen Buddhism also offers clear and easily understandable approaches to silencing the world around you so you can aptly reflect, which is beneficial for reducing distraction while digging deeply into your motivations driving specific actions or beliefs.

The Challenge: Much of the problem with discourse today revolves around our intent: are we engaging in conversation to share ideas, learn and benefit all parties, or are we just looking to score points and win no matter the cost? While individuals with poor intentions can obviously disrupt any reasonable conversation, even those with ambivalent and unclear intentions can be disruptive.

Many people participate in discourse without being aware of their true intent, nor can they control their tone or content as their mood and intent change over a discussion. Even more challenging, some actors deliberately mask their intent, taking control of discourse and manipulating its progression.

The Resolution: It can be hard to focus on positive discourse in a world where argumentativeness and ill intent are encouraged or even rewarded. Do this by bringing positive purpose to your conversations to embrace others and engage in a harmonious debate. Reflection is also needed to understand one’s intention; if our intention is ambiguous, it isn’t easy to come to clearer conclusions. Work to discern and solidify your intention by reflecting on why you are engaging in discourse in the first place.

Ask yourself, “What is the most optimal outcome desired?” Discerning the intentions of others to curb intellectual dishonesty is also part of the process. This includes a better understanding of body language, facial expressions and verbal cues that signal intent at the subconscious level.

For example, if someone covers their mouth with their hand while listening to you, they might be holding back something they want to express in the discussion. Here, you can consider pausing and asking the other person if they would like to interject before you continue speaking.

The Challenge: We are all aware that we use different tones in different circumstances to impart meaning, but we often fail to harness this tool to our benefit during the discourse. Even the best of intent becomes misunderstood with the wrong tone, leading to confusion and concern.

We are often challenged with maintaining a cordial and respectful tone in the face of criticism and argumentation. More than we would like, we lose control of our tone, even as we struggle to understand the tone of those we speak with, leading to a spiral of unintended meanings and hurt feelings.

The Resolution: Tweaking the trifecta of tone, mood, and intention is a tool for better discourse. Learn to assess your own tone by paying close attention to how your speech affects others relative to volume, pace, inflexions and words chosen. Also, reflect on how your tone correlates with your mood and stress levels and endeavour to be more controlled and intentional no matter your temperament.

You can also emulate the collaborative, desirable tone of some of your favourite speakers and leaders who are professionally trained in the art. For example, try watching TED talks by notable experts and listening to how they use a controlled and deliberate tone to share knowledge about their industries and experiences.

The Challenge: While we face the challenge of discourse in our personal lives, we also live at a time when trust is at an all-time low—trust in the media to be unbiased and trust that our politicians or thought leaders speak for our collective societal benefit. We have lost faith in the quality of our public discourse and struggle to trust the intentions of our collaborators and even ourselves.

The dichotomy of trust and faith is a key consideration, as each is necessary to regain trust in the process of civil discourse. This is mainly because each operates at a different social level, and both societal and personal pressures cause the breakdown of our discourse.

The Resolution: Amid the notion of secular faith and trust, there is ample evidence that we, as humans, do have a strong desire to embrace respectful dialogue. For example, there are numerous examples of racism and bigotry being overcome through discussion and shared experiences with oppressed minorities, showing that common ground can be achieved across any divide.

View yourself and those you talk with as peers and equals on a path toward mutual understanding. You can do this through a concerted effort to ensure your biases and perceptions are not prompting you to interact differently with diverse parties. Also, beware of challenges like imposter syndrome and untrustworthy participation that can undermine the process.

Utilising your own self-confidence to compensate for difficult collaboration is a powerful north star. You can also reward trust in others by opening up and practising transparency and appropriately tempered frankness in your discussions. Doing so will make you a more effective and authentic discussant.

A couple sat on a sofa, not listening to each other

The Challenge: Truly listening to others is difficult for anyone. It’s easy to hear others, but listening to them —actively, with attention and care—is increasingly rare and challenging today. We live at a time when our “Twitter fingers” are encouraged to respond as soon as possible without taking the time to listen to the perspective of others.

Our fast-paced, media-oriented society has conditioned us to listen less, reducing our ability to empathise and connect with others. Even when we try to listen to the opinions of those different from us, we lack the tools to maintain attention and focus and struggle to show that we are attentively listening.

The Resolution: Simply “listening to others more” does not solve the problem of poor listening skills and discourse. Rather, growth is found through improving the quality of our listening. The real solution is active listening, as opposed to passive listening, and a true dedication to being attentive during the discourse. Listening rather than speaking is best to foster respectful and productive discourse.

If you find yourself talking with those who dominate a conversation, try pointing out the other speaker’s behaviour calmly but directly, like saying, “I would appreciate it if I could make my point without interruption.” You can also show others that you are being attentive by reframing and summarising their points to show you are hearing and thoughtfully considering their views.

There are also alternative forms of active listening, which can include utilising body language and technology to communicate with those who are differently abled or speak another language.

The Challenge: We are constantly bombarded with new content, from social media to new technologies, all while navigating our day-to-day challenges as we live in an increasingly diverse and divisive world. As more and more people experience anxiety and a sense of being overwhelmed, finding focus becomes a greater and greater challenge.

It becomes increasingly difficult to stay focused during discourse, even the most civil discussions, and this lack of focus can bleed into important conversations no matter how hard we try. Specific mental tools and practices are needed to help maintain focus and bring ourselves back into focus when we become distracted.

The Resolution: To help you master your focus quickly and efficiently, you can draw from Eastern traditions and the practices of leading American entrepreneurs to develop practical, real-world habits supporting improved focus. For one, the concept of Ichigyo Zammai, a Japanese practice that hones your focus by simplifying your attention, can be helpful—especially when paired with Zen mindfulness and meditative practices.

Doing so can help you take charge of your train of thought. Another helpful approach for staying focused through even the most convoluted or challenging discussions is by practising First Principles Thinking, following the lead of modern entrepreneurs and thought leaders, for which you constantly question processes to identify core problems and solutions.

The Challenge: Discourse is built on the meeting of minds as people of different backgrounds share knowledge for mutual benefit. But, this assumes that collaborators can find shared connections that serve as the foundation for trust, allowing even contentious discussions to remain cordial.

Unfortunately, the polarisation of our politics and media has only encouraged us to fortify the social bubbles that we live in, putting less and less effort into hearing the opinions and perspectives of those different from us.

As our society discourages empathy with those who are different, we have a harder and harder time finding common ground and maintaining respect for those we debate with.

The Resolution: The first step to finding common ground in civil discourse is accepting that others have different opinions and empathising with their experiences and perspectives so that those opinions can be put into context. Find a human connection with anyone you are debating by being friendly and asking fun, personal questions to disarm and break down barriers between you.

Another powerful tool for building connections and finding common ground is humour. Sharing a laugh can show mutual fears and aspirations, reduce tension, produce a sense of camaraderie and lighten the mood. Also, endeavour to step outside your comfort zone and expand your social circle to include people of diverse backgrounds and experiences. Doing so can help you understand why an empathetic approach to discourse can bridge even the greatest gaps in perspective.

The Challenge: Of course, civil discourse is a two-way street, and no matter how hard you may try, disrespect and hurtful language can occur. While we cannot control the behaviour or ideas of others, it is possible to work with others to handle disagreements respectfully to avoid poor discourse. Our current public sphere of discourse, both in the real world and online, is haunted by trolls and others looking to sabotage meaningful dialogue.

Identifying bad-faith actors and separating them from legitimate critics is harder and harder. The challenge lies in identifying useful conflicts and growing from those discussions while protecting yourself from dishonest or malicious speakers looking to hijack civil discourse.

The Resolution: There is a real difference between sharing conflicting perspectives with others to grow and engaging in intentionally malicious discourse. The importance of embracing conflicting opinions and learning from collaborative conflict is not to be underestimated.

Learn to accept and reflect on constructive criticism by asking others to corroborate and expand on judgements you’ve received and encourage the provision of substantiating facts.

Also, refine perception skills to differentiate a valuable critique from belligerent expressions by examining the motivations of the other speaker. One way to identify bad faith actors, even as the conversation occurs, is to listen to their tone and examine how their discussion positions shift throughout the conversation. Inconsistency is a red flag. Also, strive to protect yourself from the double-edged sword of social media when looking through your feeds.

Examine how the algorithms can create artificial bubbles, and open yourself up to embracing the differing opinions and ideas of individuals and groups with new perspectives. A practical technique for resetting discourse that has deteriorated into outright conflict is to take a step back, disengage, assess your tone, and remind yourself of your ultimate intention. Doing so can help you model positive civil discourse and encourage the same from those around you.

With these insights, Kordestani seeks to instil a collective excitement to restore civil discourse and, with time, bring about a revolution of ideas built on respect and compassion for one another. Through personal reflection and acceptance of our flaws, we can improve our discourse and share our ideas with the world more respectfully.

About Milan Kordestani
Milan Kordestani is the author of the new book “I’m Just Saying: A Guide to Maintaining Civil Discourse in an Increasingly Divided World“—a straightforward look at the history and the art of maintaining courteous communication in an increasingly divided world.

Milan, the author of this guideIn I’m Just Saying, author Milan Kordestani shows us that although challenging conversations can be unpleasant, they can also help us grow. Sometimes, people inspire us to change how we speak, making us better communicators as we search to find common ground with those with whom we disagree.

Kordestani uses contemporary case studies and personal experience to teach readers how to have constructive conversations by engaging in civil discourse—the idea that good-faith actors can reach a consensus on any opinion-based disagreement.

He discusses influential leaders and reflects on his successes and failures in creating The Doe; an online publication focused on civil discourse. He addresses the challenges that digital media consumption presents when seeking common ground—especially when people are only digitally connected.

The book is broken into sequential order, like lesson plan modules. Each chapter tackles a specific aspect of civil discourse, from the importance of active listening to the dangers of point-scoring in confrontational conversations. The conversational tone and writing style make for an engaging read, and the Q&A sections that break up the chapters provide a refreshing change of pace.

Kordestani’s anecdotes make the book relatable and add another layer of personality and personability. He acknowledges his wealth and upbringing and how that has played into his life, not hiding from it but thanking it. The book is a conversation, and the “Let’s Talk” section shows that he is open to two-way communication and sets a tone for the rest of the book.

Kordestani is an entrepreneur, writer and founder of several companies that are redefining the meaning of success in business. With a focus on building sustainable businesses that drive positive social change at scale, Milan is a three-time founder who wants to encourage solutions beyond his companies through storytelling and narration of civil discourse.

Milan’s companies prioritise transparent practice, civil discourse, and respect for creatives, including “The Doe”, an anonymously published narrative publication launched in 2019 to promote civil discourse. Audo is the only personalised career-building destination that lets you learn skills and earn money at the same time, and Guin Records is an innovative record label that offers artist-friendly deals and helps purpose-driven lyricists to produce their visions while retaining control of their masters.

I’m Just Saying is an essential guide for anyone who wants to learn how to communicate more effectively and respectfully in today’s polarised society. Kordestani’s anecdotes, practical advice, and engaging writing style make this book a must-read for anyone who wants to promote civil discourse and find common ground with those whose opinions differ from their own.

Milan’s overarching entrepreneurship and civil discourse expertise make him sought-after. Whether discussing the future of sustainable business practices, the importance of civil discourse in today’s polarised society, or the art of entrepreneurship, Milan offers unique insights that will engage and inspire listeners.

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