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Setting Ground Rules - Civil Discourse and Difficult Decisions

In courtrooms, it’s not the loudest voice that prevails. Opposing arguments are grounded in reason and evidence and they are put forward within strict guidelines for courtroom decorum.  Each side tests the arguments of the other side, and a judge holds everyone to the same protocol and standards of appropriate behavior. Asking questions of each side is an integral part of the process. The adversarial system is no place for incivility. In fact, court proceedings are set up to promote effective civil discourse.

Put an X next to the actions and attitudes that are most important to you.

  1. Be mindful of your own behavior. Notice how you internally are reacting/responding when others speak. Pay attention to how your words and your silence are impacting the experience for others in the group.
    What are you doing to create a welcoming environment for differing opinions? Are you looking at each speaker and giving your full attention? Are you listening with an open mind – momentarily putting aside what you will say next?

    Are you asking clarifying questions?  Are you being careful not to take over the conversation by talking longer than others? Are you refraining from subtle, but disrespectful behavior or not paying attention when others speak?
  2. Wait to be recognized by the moderator before speaking.  This allows time – before you speak – for reflection on what the previous speaker(s) have said.
  3. Don’t interrupt or talk over someone else who is speaking, even when you are excited.
  4. No side conversations. They are disrespectful to the speaker and distract listeners from the person who has the floor.
  5. Listen for content in the statements of others, especially when you disagree. Listen for what the speakers are trying to communicate, even if they aren’t expressing their points concisely.
  6. Find common ground. Identify and call attention to areas of agreement.
  7. Follow the direction of the discussion. Don’t repeat what already has been said. Relate your comments to those of previous speakers.
  8. Ask questions. Don’t assume that you know what someone else means. Ask the speaker to help you understand perspectives different from your own.
  9. Don’t embarrass yourself or disrespect others by making demeaning or inappropriate comments, facial expressions, or gestures. No eye rolling, sighing, or checking out of the conversation.
  10. Differentiate between facts and opinions. Both are valid when expressed appropriately.

What would you add?