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Civility Self-Reflection Exercise - Civil Discourse and Difficult Decisions

Civility self reflection for students to fill out while waiting for the program to start.

Use this discussion starter to reflect on how you interact with your peers when discussing a controversial topic. Note how frequently or infrequently you engage in the action described, then answer the follow-up questions. Find the complete worksheet on pages 15-18 in the activity download.

1. When a conversation gets heated, I contribute to the conversation.

  • Would people say you, typically, are an inflamer, an informer, an inquirer, an influencer, a good listener, a comedian?
  • What other roles do people take in heated conversations?

2.  When peers disagree about an issue, I remain silent.

  • Why do you tend to remain silent?  Can that be a good thing? What makes you comfortable enough to speak?

3.  I take an active role in creating a welcoming environment for differing opinions.

  • What do you say and do?

4.  I give my peers eye contact and my full attention when they speak, even when I disagree.

  • When people are really listening to you, what difference does that behavior make to you? 
  • What difference does it make in the conversation?

5.  When I disagree with someone, I keep an open mind and, momentarily, put aside what I plan to say next.

  • What do you say to yourself so that you really listen, not just wait for your turn to speak?

6.  I can’t control others’ behavior or opinions, so I focus on my own actions and civility.

  • What does that mean? 
  • How does it work?

7.  When I’m speaking, sometimes, I use silence to get the attention of others.

  • How do you use silence? 
  • How effective is it? 

8.  I speak respectfully to people with whom I disagree, even if they disrespect me.

  • Why? Give an example of what you can say or do/not do when someone is disrespectful to you.

9.  I ask clarifying questions.

  • Give examples of clarifying questions.

10.  I am careful not to take over a conversation by talking longer than others.

  • What limits do you put on yourself to keep from talking too much? 
  • On the other hand, what do you do/say when you can’t get a word in edgewise?

11.  When I get excited, I interrupt the person speaking.

  • When you feel strongly about a subject, how do you monitor yourself so that you don’t interrupt?

12.  I have side conversations that distract the person I’m talking with – and others – from the person who has the floor.

  • How do you feel when someone is whispering while you’re talking, even when they’re trying not to be disruptive?

13.  I listen for what people mean – not just what they say – when I disagree with them.

  • What do people do/say when they are listening just to the words?
  • What do they do/say when they are listening for what the person means?

14. When peers disagree, I find common ground and call attention to areas of agreement.

  • What are some phrases you can use to bridge the gap when you are trying to find common ground?

15.  Sometimes I tune out, then realize I’ve repeated something that already has been said.

  • How do you feel when someone repeats a point that already has been made?

16.  I roll my eyes, or make subtle faces when I disagree with someone’s opinion.

  • How do nonverbals detract from the civility of the conversation, even when the speaker doesn’t see you rolling your eyes or making faces?

DISCLAIMER: These resources are created by the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts for educational purposes only. They may not reflect the current state of the law, and are not intended to provide legal advice, guidance on litigation, or commentary on any pending case or legislation.