It seems that civility in public discourse is getting rarer and rarer. The news is filled with stories of municipal meetings, school boards, housing associations and even more forums filled with shouting, anger and even physical violence. Maintaining civility is crucial not only for promoting public discourse but for keeping the attendees of meetings safe.
Tips for keeping gatherings civil
Even when tempers get heated, it is in the best interests of the party holding a public meeting to encourage civil relations. If you are a public employee or are otherwise involved in holding public meetings, you can prepare in advance to set a positive tone for the event. Some important tips for maintaining civility include:
- Welcome different opinions: Some environments do not welcome disagreement, which can make attendees defensive. Instead, invite and respect diverse opinions.
- Minimize interruptions: Interrupting someone’s speech is sometimes necessary for time, to correct a fact or to interject an important matter. However, try to prevent interruptions, as they can feel insulting to the speaker.
- Control your own response: Although you cannot control other people’s reactions, you can control your own. By keeping calm, you can reduce the hostility in an interaction.
- Impose a code of conduct: It should go without saying that raised voices and violence are not appropriate. You may still need to create a code of conduct that prohibits certain actions and requires the removal of offenders.
As a last resort, the party running the meeting may find it necessary to ask a participant to leave. In cases of violence or threats, you may even need to call the authorities. By implementing the aforementioned tips, though, you may circumvent this escalation by hosting a civil environment for everyone attending the meeting.