Agreeing to Disagree

Civil discourse training can help build trust, respect, and empathy with others who have different perspectives.

Today’s public discourse seems to attract the most divisive speakers who are appealing only to those who already agree with their point of view. Online, we receive messages that reinforce our opinions due to algorithms created to keep our eyeballs on the screen and link us to like-minded people through social media.

What role—if any—does an organization have to teach its employees civil discourse? Unfortunately, a company’s success, reputation, and profitability can be undermined by people arguing when they could be having a mutually respectful discussion. In the past, our high school curricula had courses on Civics and Social Studies. Most students were taught to participate in debates where they had to be prepared to defend each side of an argument. A well-educated workforce must know how to have a civil discourse where they can disagree without being disagreeable.


  1. Civil discourse training equips employees with the skills needed to navigate conflicts productively. Instead of escalating tensions, individuals learn to engage in open, respectful conversations to find common ground and reach solutions.
  2. A culture of civil discourse encourages the free flow of ideas. When employees feel comfortable expressing their thoughts without fear of judgment, innovation and creativity thrive.
  3. Civil discourse fosters a sense of community and belonging. Employees who feel heard and respected are more likely to be engaged and committed to their work, leading to increased productivity and organizational success.
  4. Civil discourse promotes a safe, harassment-free office environment for all employees.


Most experts agree that any initiative committed to promoting the civil discourse necessary to overcome social divides should do the following:

  • Focus on an open exchange of ideas that promote understanding of different perspectives, rather than on winning an argument.
  • Prioritize relationships and listen to understand others’ points of view rather than waiting for an opportunity to advance your argument. Build a relationship beyond your opinion and be willing to share things about yourself in return.
  • Understand that factors such as life experience, culture, and access to information influence people’s beliefs, and allow those factors to inform one’s perspective of their point of view.
  • Foster people’s willingness to consider an alternative perspective. Have participants trade places and defend the reasoning behind the other perspective.
  • Make room to transform and be amenable to different perspectives.
  • Focus on company values. A core set of clear, specific values helps inform and focus on what the company stands for. Link these values to the training objective.
  • Seek common ground.

Guidelines to facilitate civil discourse training include identifying a clear purpose, establishing ground rules, providing a common basis for understanding, creating a framework for discussion that maintains focus and flow—including everyone—summarizing discussion, and gathering feedback.

As part of an initiative to promote civil discourse, one company created a workshop on “Inclusive Conversations.” It taught employees how to navigate conversations around diversity, equity, and inclusion with sensitivity and respect. The program included modules on active listening, cultural competence, and strategies for addressing unconscious biases.


I have always learned the most from those whose world views were different from mine. This did not mean I agreed with everyone. But listening carefully and responding with respectful, thoughtful questions helped me understand others’ perspectives and gave me new insights. One guideline I try to practice is to be more interested than interesting, especially during “difficult conversations.” Building trust, respect, and empathy with others who have different perspectives will bring us all closer to achieving our full potential.

Neal Goodman, Ph.D.
Dr. Neal Goodman is an internationally recognized speaker, trainer, and coach on DE&I (diversity, equity, and inclusion), global leadership, global mindset, and cultural intelligence. Organizations based on four continents seek his guidance to build and sustain their global and multicultural success. He is CEO of the Neal Goodman Group and can be reached at: Dr. Goodman is the founder and former CEO of Global Dynamics Inc.