Incorporate Civility Into Your Discussions

John’s Perspective

It’s acceptable to disagree, but it’s never acceptable to be rude. As a leader, you will often be faced with new business strategies, tactics, and opinions about your organization. Some of those you will embrace with open arms and others will sound like the worst ideas you’ve ever heard. You are always allowed (and hopefully, encouraged) to courageously embrace your own opinion and make your case. Please just remember to keep your discourse civil.

Not being civil will hurt your argument, and potentially your relationship.

I remember explaining to my children, when they were younger, that throwing a tantrum because they wanted something would ensure they definitely did not get it. The same is true in the adult world, particularly the business world: “losing your cool” and becoming angry because you don’t agree with something will definitely ensure you do not get it. And, unlike children, whose behavior we’ll forgive because of their extreme youth, not acting civil with another adult may harm your professional and personal relationships. Said a different way: not acting civil only makes you lose twice and never helps you win. You will lose the short-term discussion at hand and you will do longer-term damage to your relationships and reputation.

Body language counts.

Even if your words are civil and generous, it does not mean that you can ignore your tone or your body language. While the often-repeated “93% of communication is non-verbal” has now been debunked by numerous sources, it is true that non-verbal communication reveals your underlying emotions and motivations. Poor body language, such as agreeing that something is a good idea with a very sarcastic tone, while rolling your your eyes, will completely overshadow the fact that you agreed to the idea. While you still must be cognizant of your word choices, be aware of your body language: keep your tone neutral, don’t roll your eyes, and try not to cross your arms or put your hands on your hips.

If the other party is frustrated, practice empathy.

The other party in your discussion may be frustrated with how the conversation is going. And sometimes (perhaps if they didn’t read this column), they might not even be acting civilly. Tempting as it may be to also take the low road, remember to maintain your civil discourse and body language and to instead be empathetic to your discussion partner. Maybe you think they’re overreacting (and they might be!), but perhaps there’s another reason why, and it has nothing do with this discussion. They might just be stressed, tired, sick, or worried about something else. And if you felt that way, wouldn’t you want someone to show you some empathy? Keep calm, don’t take their anger or overreaction personally, and show them some kindness. It will likely diffuse any mounting anger they have, will get your discussion back on a professional track, and it may even make their day a bit better.

Join us The Ritz-Carlton Leadership Center at one of our upcoming Enrichment Courses to learn more about the best practices of service, civility, and problem resolution. 
The “John’s Perspective” posts on this site are my own and do not necessarily reflect those of Marriott International.