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Here in Alberta, we are in the middle of a provincial election campaign. We are inundated with opinions from leaders, telling us what is wrong and right, and what they intend to do about it if elected. It’s full of one-sided positions, as it’s supposed to be. Parties have different plans on how they will govern and it is up to us to learn and decide. It is also up to us to discuss and learn more, either from traditional research or, to be bold, talk with others about how they feel.

Recently I was having a conversation at a party about the election, the leaders and the issues. At one point someone came up to us to join the conversation, but once she heard words and acronyms such as UCP, NDP and a new arena, she said it sounds as if we were having a dangerous conversation. We weren’t arguing, raising our voices or having anything that could have been construed as a disagreement. It was simply conversation – discovering perspectives and understanding opinions.

Above all, we were participating and encouraging dialogue, which is one of the greatest avenues of learning. Without conversation, how are we supposed to understand more than what is on the surface? How can our perspectives grow and evolve? Do our opinions stay the same, regardless of changing circumstances?

Many say social media has encouraged dialogue – giving people a platform to express opinion and receive opinions from others. Dialogue, however, is when people, together, talk about issues and share perspectives. Social media has done the opposite. The platform is one-sided – promoting rather than sharing perspectives. Conversations from social media have become shoutouts of opinions, rather than listening to others and we are seeing this manifest into arguments, insults and being labelled as “dangerous” topics.

Of course, politics and social issues, such as abortion, gender identity and taxation can be hot topics. Equally so are issues that we have in business such as remote working, mental health, maternity leave and compensation. Because they can be deemed as dangerous, or sensitive, then we need to walk softly or be careful on how we approach the topic. I remember being in a leadership meeting where it was to be ‘softly’ discussed whether mental health days should be seen as sick days. It was deemed a dangerous topic, so we needed to all tread carefully.

It was not a dangerous topic. It was an important topic – just like which party may form a government.

Perhaps we can bring back some civility to the old fashioned, two-way conversation and use the term “important” rather than “dangerous” when discussing current matters of mutual interest, where emotion may play a role. For starters, keep the following points in mind:

  • No conversation is dangerous – if you do not want to participate, then don’t, but don’t say its dangerous. It’s an opportunity to understand different perspectives, something that seems to have become a lost art. It’s not threatening but inviting of others to listen and share objectively.
  • The topic is not dangerous. The people can be though, depending on how they are responding or reacting to the topic. It they seem intolerant, combative or demand to know why someone feels different than they do, they are the dangerous ones and should be removed from the open conversation.
  • Agree not to agree, but walk away with respect for the other person’s opinion. You do not need to change their position – we are all different for many reasons. I do not need to agree with why you are voting the way you are. What helps me is to understand it, and accept, but most importantly, respect that our opinions differ.

Who knows – after having a difficult conversation about a dangerous topic, we may all learn something, which may alter our option. It may not change it, but we gain a more fulsome understanding of its importance to the person and the environment around them. This is only done through dialogue, not positing on social media or refraining from the conversation altogether. The only dangerous topics are the ones we choose to not discuss because we do not want to learn and discover – not the topic itself.

Eileen Dooley is a talent and leadership development specialist, and a leadership coach, based in Calgary.

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