We’re living in an age of social media shouting and a massive lack of healthy conversation. Why is that?

30+ years ago, there were only 3-4 major media outlets; so by default, they had to serve a very broad audience. This also meant that positions were not nearly as extreme as they are today ,and the presentation was overall more polite.

Another factor that has changed with the rise of more media outlets is our overall approach to journalism. With such few major outlets, journalistic standards were held to the highest level ,and everything was screened for false or misleading content. Getting the story right was more important than being the first to break it.

Today, hundreds if not thousands of competing news outlets have created a world with few journalistic standards so that anyone can say much of anything and get away with it. Couple this with social media and now anyone who can type may express an opinion with seemingly equal weight as media outlets. And, since you don’t know many of the people you confront online, ithas led to a lack of civility since there is no relationship upon which to stand.

I think most of us would agree that we don’t like the trends we’re seeing and the direction we’re heading towards things like “cancel culture,” Twitter sparing matches, and disrespect towards people we don’t even know…but how do we change this?

How Do We Change This?

The first question is: Do we want to?  

News outlets thrive on controversy and live and die on circulation, ratings, likes or followers.   Controversy creates ratings. So, to make any change, there has to be a backlash from consumers who demand facts, not hyperbole. The first step is with the person in the mirror.

We need to deem this unconstructive monologue as unhealthy and get back to constructive dialogue so we can actually solve important issues. We can’t control others, but we can control our OWN approach. This isn’t to be mistaken for trying to convince people that we are RIGHT and they are WRONG. Constructive dialogue doesn’t always end in an agreement, but it is always done with civility.

How Can Organizations and Companies Promote an Environment Where Healthy Dialogue is the Status Quo and Not the Other Way Around?

Let’s start with 5 simple steps towards healthy dialogue:

1.  “Seek to understand, then to be understood.”

This quote from Steven Covey is always the first thing that comes to mind when I think about healthy dialogue. We have two ears and one mouth for a reason: to LISTEN. Let’s listen first to understand WHY the other side feels the way it does.

When I was the CEO of Seaworld, I remember meeting with Wayne Pacelle, the current CEO of The Humane Society . I had been trained by SeaWorld executives to dislike and distrust Wayne and the Humane Society as a whole. His organization did the same to him. Once we actually sat down and talked about global animal welfare issues ,we found we had a lot more in common than we thought. As a result we were able to work out an agreement that helped both organizations and contributed greatly to global animal welfare.  

This would have been impossible without civil, kind, and understanding conversation.

2.  Ask Why. Then ask why. Then ask why again.

Now that we have the listening part down, it is important to try to really understand what the other party is saying. Inevitably, the person you are conversing with will state facts or a point of view that you find disagreeable. Continue to ask the person why  he or she feelsthat way. As you peel away the onion of the argument, you are able to reveal what the TRUE issue is. It is then and only then that true progress can be made in dialogue.  

3.  Repeat what you have heard.

Now that you understand what the true issue is, repeat the position so that he or she  feels heard. This can be a magical moment when you express how the other side feels.  

4.  Express your viewpoint and ask that  your speaking time be respected as well.

A Leader should: Seek to understand, listen, ask why you feel the way you do, and then summarize your view back to you. Present your arguments and facts. If the person  is reasonable,  he or she will be able to acknowledge your side of the issue as well. Perhaps even challenge you with why questions as well.

It is amazing how this process diffuses anger in a disagreement. When both sides have heard each other out without anger or malice, we often see that much is agreed on, and we can get beyond labels and proceed to the heart of the issue.

5. Stay Calm!

Throughout the process, it helps no one to  increase vocal volume.  The more calm you remain,,the higher chance that progress will be made. If the other person becomes angry or hostile, it is time to respectfully end the conversation and leave the room.  

Whether your conversations are happening in the workplace, at home, or online, I hope these tips help you lead healthier and more productive conversations.

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