Here’s A Dictionary Definition
of the word “caution”: care taken to avoid danger or mistakes; prudent forethought to minimize risk. Ahaa! Who here is using caution about what they say or write during these fraught times? Me! Absolutely. I’m treading carefully.

And Yet
I feel the need to take whatever small steps I can personally take, in this tiny little piece of the universe I have staked out, to speak truth. To encourage you to engage, as it were, in civil discourse.

If You’ve Spent Any Time
around young children, whether they belong to you or someone else, you’ve probably heard the phrase, “Use your words!” It’s usually spoken with grown-up exasperation when said young child is throwing a tantrum or a punch. What are we trying to teach here? The effort to pause and find the words that express what we mean or need. It’s both an important skill and a life lesson. One we hopefully learned as children.

Civil Really Means
courteous and polite, and discourse is what we do all day long. So how can we do it better? By using word choice that offers different perspectives without dissing or dismissing other viewpoints. Easy for me to write; hard to do in real time. Because we all get triggered, and it’s hard to keep listening. Especially if we fall into “othering” those who are different from us.

Word Choice
When working with clients, I often suggest different word choices to help them make their messages clearer and more understandable to their listeners. I hereby humbly offer a range of ideas for you to build commonality, even when it’s hard.

Step Back and Encourage Openness
“I’m curious. Can you help me understand…?”
“I see where you’re coming from and I’d love to hear your perspective on…”
“Perhaps there’s an additional way to look at…”
“Have we explored the possibility that…”
“What if we try putting that in another context…”

Lower the Temperature
“Let’s try to find common ground to work from. Can we agree that…?”
“I’d like to ensure that everyone has a chance to express their thoughts. Can we begin with…?”
“I know opinions are running high here. Let’s commit to focusing on the facts as best we understand them.”
“I hadn’t considered that angle. Although I respectfully disagree, I’m thinking we can find some middle ground.”

Pivot and Make Space
“I see your point, and I also see it as…”
“Adding to that, I’d like to offer a different assessment.”
“While I respect your view, I need to suggest an alternative viewpoint…”
“Building on your outlook, I’m inclined to think…”
“Along with that perception, I’d like to include the idea that…”
“I hear you, and I want to share another approach.”
“Somewhat different from that, I believe if we…”
“May I offer an alternate take on this?”

American Thanksgiving is Upon Us
Just sayin’. Let’s look for the positive. Let’s speak with kindness and listen with understanding. Let’s be deeply, deeply grateful for what we DO have. Let’s remember we, or our ancestors, have all been the “other.” Many of us still feel we are.

Our words matter. Supposedly no less an expert than Sigmund Freud said, “Civilization began the first time an angry person cast a word instead of a rock.” May we cast our words with care!

Sending hugs for the journey.

Be the happy recipient of more great tips and techniques, along with intelligent musings on the state of communications, by signing up for Diane Ripstein’s regular NewsNotes right here.