Results Through Leadership:


Divided Government Can Get Things Done

When asked if he would have more progressives in his cabinet, Joe Biden replied that his administration would ‘look like America’. Given that we are a nation as deeply divided as we have ever been, it will be an unruly bunch, to say the least. There are deep divisions not only between the Executive and Legislative branches, but within each party as well.

Some people think that divisiveness precludes getting anything done. Certainly recent history seems to confirm this dismal prediction. Does it really have to be that way?

The business community is gradually learning that diversity in all things can actually be turned into an advantage, when skillfully managed. This is particularly true when it is diversity in perspective, academic background and ideology, and also in temperament. Though it may take longer to arrive at agreements, groups that include diverse thinkers are far better at creating innovative and effective solutions than groups of like-minded people.

The kinds of differences we are experiencing in America in this moment are of a different nature than simply ones of perspective and temperament. They are not only differences about solutions to problems, (though they are this too – think immigration, criminal justice, income inequality, healthcare, abortion) they also seem to be about the fundamental values that underlie the differences. They run deeper, more rooted in identity, definitions of morality and views of what is right and wrong, good and evil. Can these kinds of differences really be managed?

There has been a great deal of speculation about how we got to this point. Social media ‘echo chambers’, lack of truly objective media, largely segregated living arrangements, historic regional differences, and most recently, the tone being modeled at the top of government, are all blamed. It is most likely a combination of all of these; It has been increasing for decades, well before the current administration. It may not matter much because we cannot easily change any of these things. The only thing we can change is our own behavior.

It takes more than just putting everyone in the same room and letting them duke it out. There are some tried and true methods for bridging even the deepest differences in order to arrive at agreements and get things done, including the following:

*De-couple problem-solving from politics, to the extent possible. Yes, everyone is interested in being looked upon favorably by one’s own group and everyone wants to be ‘right’, but the goal is to solve the problems that challenge the nation. This cannot be emphasized too strongly or repeated too often. Doing one’s job has to override ego.

* Identify and acknowledge the things that everyone cares about. We may have to reach pretty far out to get there, but certainly there are some common wants, like prosperity & security for the country as a whole (it may be stretch to say for ‘all’), fairness, equality in opportunity and a shot at a good life for all citizens……whatever people of a broad range of affiliations can agree on.

* With these ultimate ends in mind, address specific issues by asking big broad questions that take into consideration competing interests. For example, on immigration, it’s not ‘Do we need to build a wall?’ or even ‘How do we keep out undesirable people?’ but ‘How can we regain control of our borders by identifying the kind of people we want and those we don’t and executing the resulting policies humanely?’

* Take time to allow everyone to express his or her beliefs and opinions, with no idea ever being demeaned or judged out of hand. Create an environment in which people are all working together as a team to achieve common goals, regardless of party or any other affiliation. Solving problems is part rational and part pure creative process that calls for considering a broad array of ideas, even if some seem improbable. Problem-solving is not competitive; never ever pit people against one another.

* Shift the way we think and talk about differences and how we resolve them: Compromise must be rebranded as a good thing. Compromise does not equal capitulation or lack of principle. We are social beings who are individually unique, which makes compromise a necessary condition for survival. In fact, when people come together with shared purpose,

the outcome can be much better than compromise solutions in which everyone gives up something; they can be new and better solutions than anyone had considered before.

* Recognize that the majority of the population is pragmatic and moderate. People want solutions that work to solve the problems that affect their lives. They may scream for ideologically extreme positions, whether progressive or conservative, but at the end of the day, most will welcome compromise solutions that fix problems.

Peggy Noonan, ever the pragmatist herself, in a recent WSJ column, said about the election “the split decision amounted to a reassertion of centrism”. If that’s true (and I hope it is), and if Biden is able to set the tone and create the conditions for the above things, we will be on our way to a better, stronger, more unified Union.

Dana Morris-Jones

Scarborough, Maine

207 883-2333

410 382-5618

Dana Morris-Jones is a mediator, facilitator and organizational development consultant. Her book The Power of Difference: From Conflict to Collaboration was published in 2016

Everyone talks about how important it is to communicate. Communication takes time. How do I know when, how and what to communicate with my team?

ACE answers: Communication is important for a variety of reasons. When done well, it can play a significant role in building employee commitment, motivation, a sense of belonging and a feeling that they are contributing to something they believe in. Transparent and inclusive communication practices also go a long way to building trust in leadership.

The goal of communication may vary, from simply sharing company-wide information, to involving others in decision making by asking for input, or conveying job specific information. Every form of communication carries with it several different messages, depending on both the words and the way it is delivered. Each one is an opportunity to let employees know they are valued and that their opinions and contributions matter. Being left out of a communication can send an even stronger message, and it’s not a good one.

Sharing Information: Sometimes this is very straightforward and non-controversial. When that’s the case, a written announcement might suffice. However, if there are likely to be questions or concerns, two-way communication in which everyone has a chance to hear one another’s views is preferred. This is particularly true when change is happening. It is often good practice to communicate with the team all together and follow up with individuals to make sure everyone is on board.

Getting input into decisions: Not every decision requires input from everyone, of course. However, when it is possible, this is the occasion for face-to-face (via Zoom in today’s environment) group meetings in which everyone affected can be a part of the process. Creating opportunities for input demonstrates respect and is often the source of valuable creative ideas. (Meetings should not be used for simply communicating information one-way when input or questions are not anticipated)

Job specific: Its rare these days that any one job does not impact many other jobs. Information regarding changes or issues in roles or practices needs to be communicated widely to anyone who will be affected. Ideally, there is opportunity for questions and interaction among everyone involved

In our opinion, it is far worse to ‘under’ communicate than ‘over’ communicate. It’s true that communication takes time. And in our current environment, it takes some thought and ingenuity to figure out the best way to do it. And it’s worth every bit of the time and effort that it takes.

Author: Dana Morris Jones

Why is it so difficult to have constructive conversations about race? I’m not just referring to how uncomfortable they are, but to how ineffective they seem to be in enhancing understanding.

The easiest answer may be because our experiences are so vastly different that to achieve real understanding takes real skill. And the hard truth is that most of us either don’t have the requisite skills or we just don’t make the effort to practice them. Communication that bridges significant differences requires the ability to listen deeply to understand without judging. It also requires the discipline to not react, but to absorb and reflect before responding. It may also require a willingness to tolerate discomfort.

There is no doubt in my mind that the experience of being black in this country is something I, as a white person, can never fully understand. I can read about the history of slavery, Jim Crow laws, segregation that still existed in my lifetime (and does today in some ways), and how the vicious cycle of being persecuted for trying to exercise basic rights (e.g. voting, access to housing, education) leads to the perception of black criminality which leads, in turn, to more persecution. I can read and listen, but I can never experience any of it except as an observer.

And as a white person, I can say that I am proud of how I and my ancestors have done our best to contribute to a fair and just society. I marched against injustice in the 60’s, my father worked to help disadvantaged people (mostly African American) afford to buy homes in the 60’s and 70’s, my immigrant grandparents overcame their own experience of discrimination to create successful lives and families. I believe in real equal opportunity and a society built on hard work, and fairness, and have lived in accordance with that belief. I’ve done some of the right things, but clearly, I haven’t done enough. As a nation, we’ve never come even close to creating an even playing field or a truly equitable society. We can acknowledge that people of color regularly encounter barriers and roadblocks to economic, educational, physical, social and psychological well-being that white people rarely do. Acknowledgement is the first meager but necessary step.

At the same time, we can ask also to be listened to and understood. We must be able to talk about our own experience without fear of being shamed, discounted or attacked. Many white people are reluctant to discuss their perceptions of black criminality and they may be inclined to defensiveness when they hear the phrase ‘white privilege’ which they often take as criticism instead of an observation about the inherent disadvantage of being a person of color. Deep listening without judgment, inquiry and reflection are required by all. Maybe that’s a lot to ask from people who feel so wronged. But it may be the only way to break through the inertia that has kept things the same for so long. These difficult and uncomfortable conversations are necessary if real change is to occur.

How can we begin to hear each other with real understanding and compassion? It takes work and real desire to bring about change. White people must try to understand the anguish, despair, and yes, anger that black people feel. We need to listen deeply to that other experience, without judgment. Our own sense of righteousness does not undo any of that experience. We need to ask questions and be open to hearing things we may not want to hear.

Only when we’ve had these conversations can we can start to work together to solve problems. The answers cannot be cavalier or easy. Words, gestures and symbols do matter and we cannot afford to simply react when we hear or see things we don’t fully understand. We have to dig deeper. Colin Kaepernick intended to call attention to the issue of excessive police force used against black people when he took a knee during the national anthem. I wonder if he was aware that it might be misinterpreted by many. When people propose ‘defunding’ policing, what does that mean? If it means redirecting funds away from punitive approaches to everything from homelessness and mental illness to peaceful protest and into investment in the socioeconomic infrastructure of black communities, it makes a lot of sense. If it means doing away with police departments, it sounds like a pretty bad idea to many. More talk, fewer sound bites and slogans.

We can’t rely on our officials, at any level, to do it all. We are all complicit in creating the society in which we live so we must all be part of making change. The wave that is washing over the country right now seems very powerful, but not everyone is being carried along with it. There are some who will wait for it to ebb and will be left unchanged in their attitudes and behaviors. Real engagement and dialogue can lead to greater understanding, acceptance and commitment to creating a better society. Find somebody to talk with.

Dana Morris-Jones is an OD consultant, mediator, facilitator and author of The Power of Difference: From Conflict to Collaboration in Five Steps

Whether you’re hosting or attending, you can do a lot to make your Thanksgiving a peaceful and pleasant event by offering a few tried and true approaches.

Before you even pass the turkey, set the tone by saying a few words about how nice it is to be together this year. Then ask everyone to join you in keeping it upbeat by agreeing to some simple ‘rules of engagement’: 1) It’s ok to disagree, and 2) No matter the topic, be respectful of one another.

When potentially inflammatory topics arise (probably anything related to the president + other hot button topics like immigration, or whatever makes the temperature rise in your family), invoke a few additional ideas for how to approach the conversation: 1) Listen with curiosity to learn about views that are different from your own, 2) Speak to be understood, not to convince, 3) Know that everyone’s experience is different and that’s ok, and 4) Celebrate the things that unite and connect us.

If things start to get heated, despite your best efforts, try keeping it light by 1) Bringing some humor to the situation (whoa, I know what’s gonna be on our ‘no talk list’ for next year!) or 2) changing the subject (What was your favorite movie this year?)

Preserving relationships and good will is a worthwhile goal which really costs you nothing. Good luck and enjoy the day!

Dana Morris-Jones,

Author, The Power of Difference: From Conflict to Collaboration in Five Steps

As another shutdown looms large, I wonder how we lost our taste for solving complex problems in rational and effective ways. Or maybe we’ve lost the skill. Humans have been capable of using high-level cognitive abilities to weigh alternatives and devise creative solutions to complex problems for eons. Yet our esteemed leaders have forgone those capabilities and chosen to adopt playground level either-or, line-in-the-sand wrangling at a tremendous cost to everyone, including themselves.

So even though I know they are not listening, I offer the following set of principles and approaches for addressing the Immigration/Border Security problem effectively, enduringly, and in a way that most of us can accept.

  1. Generate a picture of a desirable outcome we can agree on broadly
    This is not an either-or: ‘wall or no wall.’ Far from it! It’s a thoughtfully constructed set of articulated interests that reflects what most of us want. This becomes a starting place for discussion and negotiation. For example:
    We need comprehensive Immigration Policy that:
    Identifies criteria for who comes into the country and who does not, how they make application and how that is processed, what various paths to entry exist, and what happens to them at each step after entry is granted
    Creates conditions that allow the country maximum control to implement and enforce these criteria
    Creates manageable processes for determining which individuals who are already here illegally may stay or not
    Does all of this humanely, at a reasonable cost, and with the best interest of the US as paramount

Please note, I’m not advocating for these particular statements, I offer them only as examples of what might be a set of desirable outcomes that most could support:

  1. Assemble a set of facts relative to the situation that are considered valid by all decision makers. Information should be provided by neutral entities and vetted until all can accept.
  2. Provide an opportunity for everyone to express their views, concerns, beliefs, etc. while being listened to without interruption. All are encouraged to keep an open mind and listen only for understanding and to learn why people feel the way they do. Stories and testimonials representing a wide range of experiences should be shared. A discussion is not allowed during this, just speaking and listening.
  3. Given all that has occurred to this point, groups are formed to generate specific proposals for creating the desired outcome. Creativity is encouraged. As ideas are shared, new proposals are generated that represent the best thinking of all.
  4. Proposals are weighed against their potential to bring about the desired outcome. Decision makers work together to consider costs, consequences, and the ability to implement various proposals. They choose the best ones to craft into proposed legislation.

I’m not suggesting this is easy to do, but it is possible, and it can work. Is it too rational? Maybe!
What do you think?

Dana Morris-Jones is the author of The Power of Difference: From Conflict to Collaboration in Five Steps.

As some legislators continue to work to bridge the partisanship and divisiveness that seems to pervade every institution these days, most are finding that it is an almost impossible goal, as this article helps show. Why is this the case and, more importantly, why does it matter?

Some point to gerrymandering – the drawing of political districts in a way that favors one party or another – as a major culprit. Others point to all the big money in politics that makes it nearly impossible for independent and moderate 3rd party candidates to get elected. Also, some have suggested that social media has contributed.

It seems to me that all three are to blame for creating the ‘echo chambers’ in which so many of us converse only with others who hold views similar to our own. Gerrymandering means politicians only need to put forth arguments and approaches that cater to one ideological set of beliefs. The absence of moderate and independent candidates who are serious contenders means those voices are missing from the headlines and debates. Moreover, social media allows us all to achieve the same safe and comfortable one-sidedness in our personal and social relationships.

So why does it matter? Here are some of the impacts of having to consider only one side or way of thinking about an issue:

• We begin to think that more people – maybe everyone – see things the way we do than is truly the case. Our sense of reality becomes distorted
• We begin to think that anyone who disagrees with us is wrong or stupid or crazy or must be lying, or even evil
• This makes us even more extreme in our beliefs, leads to name-calling and labeling. We stop listening to other views altogether

The sum total of these effects is what some are calling ‘tribalism,’ a growing sense that only those like me are worth caring about, that it is ok to deprive ‘others’ of all sorts of things. The impact of tribalism is, at its very worst, violence against others. Less abhorrent but just as appalling, it leads to prejudice and exclusiveness.

In its least visible but just as detrimental form, tribalism leads to the complete inability to solve our complex problems, e.g., rising sea levels or education policies, because the discussions become about who is ‘winning’ or ‘losing’ instead of finding the best answers.

Guess who loses… All of us! What can you do about it? Start to talk – and more importantly, listen – to someone with very different views from your own… without judging or trying to convince, just to understand! Start a conversation and then encourage others to do the same.

Dana Morris-Jones is the author of The Power Of Difference, available on Amazon.

Peace is not just the opposite of war; it’s the calm and comfort that exists when we don’t have to fear that disruptive conflict can happen at any moment. A sense of peace allows us to let down our guard and experience a release of stress and tension. That doesn’t describe the world we are living in right now, whether we’re talking about relationships around the world, within our own country or, for many of us, in our places of work. However, is peace really what everyone wants?

This Pakistani General, speaking at an International Conference on Global Peace, talks about ‘quest for peace’ as the desired objective that ‘must be based on equality for mankind.’ It made me wonder, how universal a value is ‘equality for mankind’? So if it’s not a universally shared value, can we ever hope to achieve it, or peace for that matter?

As I’ve worked with organizations to create cultures in which constructive conflict resolution and collaboration become the norm, I’ve realized that an overarching shared sense of purpose based on core values is an essential ingredient. Disagreements may occur around all sorts of variables in how we prefer to do things, what roles we play, major and minor decisions, but if we don’t share some larger vision and set of values related to doing what we do for some purpose greater than ourselves, there is very little reason to compromise instead of compete.

This is not to say that there is not an appropriate time to compete. The important question is how do we determine when collaboration and compromise are preferred and when competition is appropriate. Or put another way, when do achieving the ends we care about call for engagement in the hope of finding a universally beneficial solution and when is there no hope of that, in which case we must go for the ‘I win, you lose’ outcome, i.e., competition or quest for dominance.

Two well-known allegories can help, one ‘the tragedy of the commons,’ the other ‘prisoners dilemma.’ In the first, tragic outcomes occur for everyone when individuals simply take what they need from a shared resource (the ‘commons’ refers to a shared village pasture in which farm animals graze) with no regulation, resulting ultimately in the depletion of a nonrenewable food source. The second refers to a situation in which two prisoners accused of the same crime must decide whether to throw the other one under the bus to save himself or trust that the other prisoner will not do that to him, so both might plead innocent and both go free. In both cases, there must be more regard for the ‘greater good’ than the ‘I win, you lose’ approach in order for there to be a good outcome for everyone in the long run. Focusing only on what is best for me, in the short term, ultimately produces tragic results for everyone.

If, rather than ‘equality of mankind’ and a peaceful world (or community or workplace) being the shared value, it is all about every man or woman for him/herself, every state or political party or country, or ethnic group for itself, why would anyone ever compromise or collaborate? Without the shared overarching ‘quest for peace’ and desire for ‘equality,’ is there any point in trying to work together?

Certainly, there are times when competition is justified when the principle or ideology being fought for is so compelling that it’s worth risking ‘war,’ or at least a nasty battle in which some sort of casualties result. What would you fight for even knowing the costs will be high? Moreover, when is it worth sacrificing something in the short term for some greater good in the long run?
Who and what would you fight for……….humankind and the planet, the nation, your religious group, your union, your ‘tribe,’ your family, or yourself? For what principle would you risk it all? At what cost? When is there more to gain by working together for the common good than for your own ends?

Questions worth pondering. For more compelling discussion, see The Power of Difference: From Collaboration to Conflict by Dana Morris-Jones.

This article “Tips on Managing Office Conflict” is a reminder that workplace conflict, while inevitable, does not have to have a negative impact. Many of us spend as much time with the people we work with as we do with our families. Since every human being is different and all have a lot at stake when we’re at work, conflicts, large and small, are going to arise every day. It’s not the conflicts themselves that often have an adverse effect, e.g., lost productivity, poor morale, ill health, and turnover, it’s how we deal with them.

It may be human nature to want to get one’s own way, but in the workplace, what feels like a ‘win’ to me may not be the best outcome for the long-term health of either the business or myself. Rather, putting what’s best for the company ahead of personal gain or ego is part of being a team player. Willingness to work collaboratively with others, even when you disagree, can lead to better solutions to problems and improved work relationships across the board. The practices that are part of working through differences constructively can actually lead to stronger organizational outcomes.

While many conflict resolution consultants and coaches advise approaching conflict by addressing the emotional, relationship issues before the more concrete underlying issues, we find it more effective to do the opposite. By focusing on and clarifying useful work and team practices, relationship issues can be put aside for the short term, and often end up resolving on their own in the long term.

The relationship of two co-workers in an organization we worked with had deteriorated to the point that they would go out of their way to avoid talking directly to one another, even though their interaction was required on a daily basis to complete their jobs. Their history included some substantive disagreement about work processes and very different styles of dealing with conflict. This led to an exchange six months ago in which one person’s voice was raised. After that time they used email almost exclusively to exchange information, which not only took more time than necessary but didn’t allow for the quality of interaction needed to solve project or customer related problems. This finally came to a head when their manager could no longer look the other way (he was something of a conflict avoider himself) and insisted that this must change.

Rather than try to get these two together to unravel all of the bad feelings that had festered and grown in hopes of repairing the relationship, we chose to address the issue as a part of work with the larger team of which they were a part, focusing on improving overall work processes of the entire team. As the team worked through describing their ‘end-to-end’ process (from first customer contact to product delivery & billing), including identifying bottlenecks and other recurring problems, each member could see the role he or she played, for good or for ill, in the quality of the processes.

This was enhanced by having each complete self-assessments related to their style of conflict resolution (Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Mode Inventory) and overall personal preference style (MBTI) which they shared and used to gain more insight into how they worked as a team. As they worked together to find and agree on ways to improve their overall process, the two individuals whose relationship had been so broken were able to mend the way in which they would work together in the future. It wasn’t because they liked each other more or forgave each other for past transgressions. It was because they saw how their dysfunction was affecting the work of the team and the ultimate success of the company. In fact, they were both quite grateful that they had not had to endure the discomfort of confronting one another about past behaviors and built up animosities. They could go forward without dwelling on the past at all and, in time, the animosities would fade.

The team as a whole also learned about resolving differences by focusing on the broader goals and purposes they shared, accepting the differences they had and being willing to engage in collaborative problem solving to work them out. Ultimately, the culture of the company as a whole began to shift away from conflict avoidance and fault-finding to one in which people valued the skills of dealing with conflict directly and constructively.

For many more (true) stories like this one and a more detailed description of approaches to effective workplace conflict resolution, pick up a copy of The Power of Difference: From Conflict to Collaboration, by Dana Morris-Jones.

Even if you wanted to, you could no longer ignore the flood of accusations of sexual misconduct and the #metoo statements that have filled every form of media in the last several months. As I listen to the conversations generated everywhere, what I notice is that there is very little agreement about why this is happening now, what it means for male-female relationships, and what should be done about it. Some believe strongly that it is long past due for women to be speaking up about their experiences of abuse or victimization. Others believe that a rush to judgment of men in general and lumping together all male behavior, from awkward insensitivity to intimidation and rape, is not only unfair but is likely to create a backlash.


With this as a backdrop, I feel compelled to offer a view that may be helpful and will surely be controversial. (This is, if nothing else, a minefield in which speaking your opinion is akin to tiptoeing around potential explosive devices.) Let me be clear, I am NOT talking about situations in which there is physical violence or threats of severe consequences if the woman does not acquiesce. I AM talking about the vast majority of situations in which a woman feels pressured into doing something she is uncomfortable with.


Emotional Intelligence is a model and set of skills related to the ability to use our emotions to our advantage, not allowing them to drive us to act in ways that are detrimental to us and our relationships. In its simplest form, it consists of 4 factors:






We all have varying levels of capability in these areas. When I teach this model to leaders and managers, it becomes quite obvious that there are differences across gender lines. As with all gender differences, this is not true across ALL people, but is a pattern that is probably statistically verifiable. The difference is especially pronounced in the first skill – self-awareness, and almost as significant in social-awareness/empathy, where in both cases, women are much more naturally skillful. There is not much difference in the other 2 areas. Almost everyone feels challenged in the ability to act in ways that are based on sound judgment rather than purely in reaction to what they are feeling in the moment.

I would argue that we are all equally responsible for our own behavior. We are also subject to the socialization we’ve experienced. Many (not all) men seem to have been socialized to believe that they are entitled to a certain kind of dominance over women, whether sexual or otherwise. Many women (not all) have been socialized to believe that it is unbecoming or inappropriate to speak up when they are feeling taken advantage of, victimized or otherwise treated as invisible or unimportant.


Understanding that men may be less innately skilled in self-awareness and empathy does not let them off the hook. These are skills that can be learned, as many men are demonstrating these days. This does require some effort as it asks them to overcome some of their socialization and internalized sense of entitlement. The fact that women may have more developed capabilities in these areas, does suggest that it is up to us to overcome our own socialization regarding reservations about speaking up when something is taking place that we don’t like or want.


Ultimately, being able to take charge of the situation as it is occurring, is more likely to lead to a good outcome for everyone than speaking up long after the fact of whatever has taken place. The recounting of long past events may be cathartic, but it cannot heal the relationship and the indefensible nature of these events can lead to irreparable harm.


I believe we owe it to each other (and to our human species) to take responsibility for making cross-gender relationships work, in whatever way we can.

There is a national initiative being launched in Maine called Revive Civility, which makes me wonder. Is civility dead or just unconscious? What has caused its demise and why does it matter? And what can we do about it?


While some may hear the term civility and think it means being polite or nice, that is not what is meant here. Rather, it is a concept that includes the willingness and ability to engage in constructive dialogue with anyone, particularly with people who hold different beliefs and opinions from your own. With that definition in mind, it’s hard to disagree with the notion that there has been a decrease of civility, whether in local and national institutions or less formal community and organizational forums. Maybe not dead, but definitely in need of resuscitation.


There seem to be many factors contributing to this. Perhaps we have lost faith that we are all in this together and that there really is something called the common good that is worth caring about. Are we so beguiled by the belief in our own ‘rightness’, that we are unable to hear and appreciate the experience of another who has walked a different path than us? Are we so fearful that, once engaged, we will lose our own beliefs or be overpowered? Or maybe we’re just so self-absorbed that we fear engagement itself.


We’ve all heard about the sometimes raucous and downright vicious exchanges that took place while our country was being formed. What was different then was that after everyone had passionately expressed their opinions, they were compelled, by the need to agree on an action, to finally work to find a consensus or at least a compromise. They were able to put country above ego.


It’s easy to put the blame on all those who model this lack of skill and bad behavior for us. If our leaders and officials can’t work together more effectively, why should we make the effort? The answer, for me, is that there is just too much at stake to wait for others to change. Each one of us has to be the change we want to see and hope to lead and inspire others.


Where can we begin the work of reviving civility? I believe it has to take place on two fronts: the will and the skill. The first is a mind shift, back to a belief that the best solutions to our problems lie in collaboration and compromise and there is rarely one right answer. That’s a tough one, probably learned only through experience and reflection. But we can begin by demonstrating the power of respectful listening, empathy and compromise every time we meet someone with whom we differ. And we can gently push back when meetings we are in are hijacked by the loudest (or rudest) voices in the room. We can demand better from our local leadership to create constructive processes and forums.


The second one is easier. Everyone can learn the skills of dialogue if they choose to. We can offer more opportunities to teach the skills, e.g., reframing problems so they are not either-or choices, active listening to understand, suspending judgment and overcoming confirmation bias, and employing collaborative and creative problem-solving methods. We can all learn and practice and model these for others – especially those who disagree with us!


Each one of us can either find or create opportunities to influence others in these ways. In my own community there has been a monthly conversation called Let’s Talk America that invites people to discuss some of the most challenging issues of the day. Another program called Makeshift Coffeehouse is creating similar opportunities across the state. Nationally, organizations like National Institute for Civic Discourse (NICD), and League of Women Voters are creating initiatives to revive civility. Courses that teach these skills are offered in every college and University.


Most powerfully, each of us can learn and practice the skills of constructive dialogue on a daily basis, in our workplaces, our communities and civic organizations, to model them for others and demonstrate that the best outcomes are the ones that work for all of us. Let’s make it a movement!


Diane Kenty wrote a similar piece for the Portland press herald that raises some other great points, you can find it here. Diane’s personal revelations are a powerful demonstration of openness, empathy and willingness to engage in constructive dialogue about difficult social issues.

Do we all have the courage to be part of a movement to revive civility?

Revive Civility Website





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