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Civil Discourse

When communicating your ideas with others, there are best practices to follow to create a civil discourse, or a discussion that is both respectful and productive. These are also great tips in constructing a college-level academic paper.

1. Construct an argument that includes both reasoning and evidence.

In other words, be clear about how you are making your assertion and support it with the best facts you can find.

For example, if I argued that "the College of Leadership and Service is the best Undergraduate College," I could provide reasoning such as, "LDS has the most spirit of any Undergraduate College" and cite the evidence that it has consistently won many attendance-based events in the Battle of the Undergraduate Colleges and H-quad won Spirit Week.

This clearly biased argument alone could become heated if I gave this argument to my ACH colleague and current rival for the championship. But because I provided both reasoning and evidence, I give my esteemed colleagues in ACH a chance to evaluate my reasoning, provide alternative reasoning, and give evidence to the contrary. For example, he might cite ACH’s current #1 UGC Battle ranking. He might question my reasoning, assert recognition as the best measure of "excellence," and cite the three nominations ACH has for student life awards as evidence that ACH is the best.

Stating both reasoning and evidence furthers the discussion and challenges me to come up with more solid reasoning and better evidence.

2. Separate the person from the problem.

Focus on the issues and avoid personal attacks. Thoughtful people can come to opposite conclusions.

For example: A group of students is debating about whether poor countries should be allowed to break a drug company's patent to create affordable medications for their citizens. One student says, "How would you know how much work went into making that treatment? You are just lazy! You didn't even show up to class on time."

This statement simply attacks the student on the opposite side of the issue and gets away from the productive part of the argument. She might say instead: "Drug companies have invested a lot of money in the development and research of the treatment."

This is a productive statement that the student on the other side of the issue can refute by discussing the reasoning of the argument. She might argue, for example, that, "Access to treatment is a human right, and charging so much money for the drug prohibits people from getting care." But with a personal attack on the table, the accused student will likely get defensive, and the debate could end in shouting.

3. Find common ground.

For example: a group is working together to come up with a service project for their organization. One person wants to raise awareness about pollution in local water ways, and the other one wants to raise money to alleviate hunger in Africa. The two sides might agree that they want all people to have access to clean drinking water, and donate proceeds from a fundraiser to an organization that accomplishes this goal.

4. Consider the difference between the intent and impact of what you say and do.

When you communicate with people, the intent of your words or actions may not be understood as you intended it to be. The impact, or the way in which what you said was understood, will influence the behavior of the other person. Have you ever experienced a misunderstanding with a friend or classmate over something that you felt you had clearly communicated? Did you ever have an unexpected impact on a person to whom you were communicating and had no idea why? You
may have said something that you intended to mean one thing, yet to the person who heard it, it may have had a very different impact.

For example, two best friends use the N-word to address each other. Someone in the room, who has had that term directed at them or their parents in a derogatory way, feels uncomfortable when they hear this.

5. If speaking from your own experience, use "I" statements.

Experience is a great teacher and you have a lot of knowledge from those experiences that can make very valuable contributions in class and out. But it is important to realize that others will have very different experiences that are equally valuable. By using "I" statements that acknowledge your experience, you create statements that avoid making others' experiences seem less valid.

For example: One student said, "Everyone loves Christmas!" The Hindu, Muslim and Jewish students in the room felt excluded from the conversation. What the speaker might have meant was "I love Christmas," a statement that could open the door to a discussion about religious or cultural holidays.

6. Keep an open mind.

As you persuade others of your point-of-view, allow yourself to carefully consider any opposing ideas.

7. When you disagree, consider the non-verbal ways of showing respect.

Do: listen actively, nod, make eye-contact. Express your opinions without personalizing.
Do not: interrupt, shout, raise your voice, stare, glare, roll your eyes, point, or get in someone's space.


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