Combatting the rising tide of hostility

Simple courtesy has taken a giant nosedive

Faith Wood knows how to resolve conflict. Her years in front-line law enforcement taught her how to effectively de-escalate any situation to a successful conclusion. Faith uses her knowledge of conflict management to guide you through the oft-times stressful experiences you may encounter in your personal or professional life. Her Conflict Coach column appears every two weeks.

Faith Wood

Question: I’ve nearly given up completely on social media. The negativity and hostility are often too much to bear.

Yet social media is not the only purveyor of caustic communications. Over the last few years, I’ve detected a general embracing of hyper-sensitive and aggressive communications at all levels,  whether it’s shaming someone for not wearing a mask (or a business for enforcing it) or we’re broadcasting total disdain for alternate beliefs that don’t align with our own.

Being cruel seems to be not only tolerated but utterly acceptable in the quest to get your viewpoint across. Have we really moved into a phase where civility is no longer an expectation? Where conflict is a byproduct of speaking your truth?

Answer: These thoughts have also kept me awake at night.

Perhaps professionalism and courtesy have taken a giant nosedive. I hear it in the political debates and on the daily news. I see it in the posts on social media. I feel it when listening to someone being berated at a store or in a restaurant (or just the caustic glances).

There seems to be a movement towards projecting a single point of view without flexibility. No debate. No room for alternate solutions.

It’s troubling, to be sure.

Perhaps we’ve been outsourcing our decision-making for too long. When confronted with impoliteness, unprofessionalism and disrespect, few take time to stop (in the heat of the moment) and seek clarification or understanding. Instead, we choose to shut up, break up or blow up.

When one feels unsafe or uncertain, we defend and/or lean into the offensive position. Hence the idea of flight or flight. Uncertainty is a difficult emotion to navigate. And it certainly has been the driving force behind many conflicts.

Although it may seem that we can’t do anything to stop the perceived free-fall, in truth there are things we can personally undertake. If we want to bring civility back, we must focus on what we can do:

  • Commit to inquiry rather than reactivity.
  • Choose not to passively participate.
  • Demonstrate a commitment to human dignity in all communications, even when your feelings are hurt.
  • Be open to discovering how beliefs were formed and what led to the ultimate decision to behave in a particular manner – not to find fault but rather to widen understanding.
  • Demonstrate empathy and compassion, but also personal responsibility.
  • Decline to participate or share content, dialogue or posts that shame others or cause them to appear foolish or unprepared.
  • Listen openly. We all have an inherent need to be heard, so make a pact with yourself to start listening more. Ask real questions, don’t make statements and veil them as questions.
  • Apologize sincerely when you hurt someone and seek opportunities to make things right. “I’m sorry” are words that can rise easily to the lips. But sincere apologies acknowledge the unintended harm and seek opportunities to make it right.

From a conflict reduction strategy, owning our participation may be just the recipe needed to slowly combat a society that seems bereft of civility.

After all, we can’t alter behaviours just by wishing they were different.

Troy Media columnist Faith Wood is a novelist and professional speaker who focuses on helping groups and individuals navigate conflict, shift perceptions and improve communications. 

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