Any group whose members can’t listen to each other or maintain respectful communication will soon dissolve into rancour.
What is meant by respect? We all have our own concept of what it isn’t; whether this is people we have encountered who are rude, brash and incapable of listening, or whether it is televised debates between politicians...
Value and cultivate qualities of compassion and respect throughout your initiative’s work, promoting politeness and respectful communication in your meetings and all other areas of what you do.
What is meant by respect? We all have our own concept of what it isn’t; whether this is people we have encountered who are rude, brash and incapable of listening, or whether it is televised debates between politicians. We know respectful communication when we see it, and it draws a lot from civility. It is worth looking at civility in order to understand its healthy and unhealthy forms.
Unhealthy civility (defined as formality or excessive politeness) can uphold established power relationships, running counter to Transition’s wish for a vigorously sustainable culture. Civility can become confused with passivity. In some cultures, for example, it would be seen as uncivil for women or people of a particular social class or ethnic background to participate in civic and/or political life in any way.
Virginia Shapiro has argued, about the historical advancement of women’s rights,[i] that “There simply was no way for women to advance their interests through politics in a civil manner.” As Ronald Reagan’s son Michael put it, “After all, revolutions aren’t made without ruffling feathers and revolutionaries aren’t renowned for their etiquette.”[ii] Civility is, of course, easier to achieve when people are more likely to agree with each other and to understand each other. As Shapiro puts it, civility is “hard to achieve in any setting in which people have differences of status, history, culture or intent”.
Yet civility, or – in its healthier manifestation, respectful communication – is essential in a Transition initiative. One forceful, rude person can drive many more people away from the valuable work being undertaken, and can make progress impossible. As much as anything, respectful communication is about being mindful. Mindful of trying to understand the views of your colleagues. Mindful of remaining open to persuasion; not attaching rigidly to the perceived rightness of your argument. Mindful of approaching others with courtesy and clarity.
Body language and active listening matter greatly. Nobody likes speaking to someone who clearly would rather not listen to them. Listening with folded arms, slouched in a chair, with tapping feet, wandering eyes and a mind that is clearly elsewhere, is not really listening. Sitting up, being attentive, maintaining good eye contact and giving good feedback all introduce mutual respect and warmth when meeting and working with others.
Some features of good listening
from the WorldCafe (http://theworldcafe.com)
- Listen to what the speaker is saying with the implicit assumption that they have something wise and important to say
- Listen with a willingness to be influenced.
- Listen for where this person is coming from and appreciate that their perspective, regardless of how divergent from your own, is valid and represents a part of the larger picture, which none of us can see by ourselves.
- While you are speaking, it is good also to try to be clear and succinct, and not hog the space.
At the end of the day, respectful communication is pretty straightforward. There may be times politically when being uncivil is called for, but we all know how feeling respected feels. When someone listens to us, we feel good, as opposed to the frustration that arises from being with someone rude and abrasive. If we know what feels good, it will benefit our Transition work hugely if we can always bear that in mind, and ensure that people whom we meet are left feeling the same way.