You can learn how to disagree in style

black couple in masks giving high five in studio

Recently your friends at Verb were at a meeting with some folks from the Public Relations Society of America (or PRSA) promoting civility. They explained that civility is different to politeness. Instead of just saying “agree to disagree,” civility is the art to disagree productively.

Think that’s a lost art? You’re not the only one. The PRSA shared research showing 93 percent of people in a poll believed incivility was a problem in 2019, with people reporting 10 disagreeable encounters per week on average. Enough to ruin every weekday a couple times over.

As you knew all along, the report also says that over half of those interactions are on social media. In fact, 63% of people surveyed on the poll said that social media is more trouble than it’s worth, up from 24% who felt that way in the same poll ten years back.

That is a bigger problem than you might think because social media has turned into a key customer interaction tool in the same period. Three out of four respondents in that poll say they’d rather not buy from uncivil companies. In a different survey from Avaya, 79 percent of people polled expect contact centers to do all they can to make them a happy customer (Avaya is a Verb customer).

That’s a lot of customers. Say that you want to become better at disagreeing, how to do it? According to the PRSA, you’re on the right path just by wanting to be more civil. Then you need to pick on some helpful habits. One we tried: avoid fact-checking others as you talk with them. Fact-checking is an excellent journalistic practice but bad for conversation.

Instead, adopt responses that work better for the specific situation. For example, if the person is sick, empathize with them. If you’re talking with a colleague, be kind first. If you are a leader, risk taking the first civil step so that your team has a model to follow. You might be used to cynicism, but the PRSA research shows that 86 percent of people believe it’s possible to disagree better.

Don’t try and you might lose more than customers. Researchers say that just witnessing incivility can lead to stress out of fear and anger. On the other hand, being happier is one way to pick civil habits. Going back to social media, one thing to prepare for happiness when representing your brand is to be ready to answer customer questions–the harder the better. It’s like training for empathy.

When you have your answers ready, chances are you will be less stressed, and the customer will have a timely response. Some people will never be happy no matter how well you respond, but you’re still working on the first thing you can control: your own response. To disagree in style, you need to accept that your role is not controlling what others do.

The PRSA gives timely advice because the pandemic has turned disagreements into matters of life and death. For example, are you able to disagree productively about vaccination? A tough one for sure. Work on your disagreement style by keeping win or lose out of mind. You are disagreeing, but your goal is to agree.

Keep an eye out for the Third-Person Effect. This is when you feel that things you see on the Internet have a greater effect on others than on yourself. That’s why it’s so compelling to bring social media arguments to our daily lives: we are trying to warn our relations that these arguments are wrong, missing out on what’s relevant in our own relationships. A sad outcome.

Social media is wonderful technology that has given us as individuals and organizations the ability to publish our own media, but that doesn’t mean that we all have to be journalists. A Verb subscription can help with the journalism, but to disagree in style, you need to work more like if you were in public relations. Need help with that? Verb co-founder Victor Aimi is a PR pro. Email him or find him on social media.