Agree to Disagree, With Ground Rules for Civil Conversations



Agree to Disagree, With Ground Rules for Civil Conversations
By Sylvia Henderson

The workplace and professional environments are seldom places for political, religious, lifestyle, and sexual discussions. Typically, we have strong opinions about these topics and believe our viewpoints to be truths. These topics also tend to transcend from someone’s expressed viewpoint to how we perceive and judge that person based on their viewpoint. American First Amendment rights aside, sensitive issues are best avoided in order to maintain positive professional and workplace relationships.

Yet we learn a lot from each other and value frank and open discussion where we agree to disagree about things. Such openness to varying viewpoints can make a workplace a favorable place to spend a significant part of our days. We can have such conversations about work-related and professional issues. Conversations where we express viewpoints can remain civil when we agree to some ground rules about how we conduct ourselves when we have such discussion.

I found a nice set of ground rules for having civil conversations at the American Bar Association website. The preface to the ground rules reads, “One of the hallmarks of a democracy is its citizens’ willingness to express, defend, and perhaps reexamine their own opinions, while being respectful of the views of others.”

group communicating

Ground rules to ensure a civil conversation include:

  • Show respect for the views expressed by others, even if you strongly disagree.
  • Be brief in your comments so that all who wish to speak have a chance to express their views.
  • Direct your comments to the group as a whole, rather than to any one individual.
  • Don’t let disagreements or conflicting views become personal. Name-calling and shouting are not acceptable ways of conversing with others.
  • Let others express their views without interruption. Your Dialogue leader will try to give everyone a chance to speak or respond to someone else’s comments.
  • Remember that a frank exchange of views can be fruitful, so long as you observe the rules of civil conversation.

Reframe these ground rules and post them in a prominent place for the next time you and your colleagues engage in what should be a civil conversation. They will remind all of you that you can have divergent viewpoints while still remaining open-minded to and respectful of each other’s perspectives.

“The strongest democracies flourish from frequent and lively debate, but they endure when people of every background and belief find a way to set aside smaller differences in service of a greater purpose.”
Barack Obama, 44th President of the United States of America

Sylvia helps people SHOW they’re as great as they SAY they are. She works with individuals and organizations (businesses, associations, non-profits, educational, and government) to make their “people image” (interpersonal skills) match – or exceed – their organizational image for greater profit, more clients, and a higher degree of personal and professional success. Sign up for monthly content and bring Sylvia to your organization at