Communicate civilly

Avoid conflict this Christmas

It’s nearly Christmas and people everywhere are preparing to spend the holidays with their families – including, in some cases, family members they profoundly disagree with.

This has been the year of Trump and Brexit and, all of a sudden, we are faced with the reality that we may see things very differently to even our closest loved ones.

What do you say to a gran who is thrilled Britain is finally saying feck off to the Europeans or a brother-in-law who can’t wait for Trump to put the feminists in their place?

The skill

It’s never been so important to know how to communicate civilly with – and actually be heard by – people whose views might be radically different from your own.

This is a skill that will definitely help you have a more peaceful Christmas but, frankly, if you can master it, it is your flaming sword in business too (and indeed in most areas of life). It’s the secret to bringing people round and enrolling them to your vision; collaborating well with a variety of people; and leading from the front when you want to create really big, game-changing things.

Seven Pillars

We at Broadly Speaking are here to help and so we did some research. Our favourite article on the subject was this brief but masterful blog post by Scott Dinsmore, founder of Live Your Legend. The blog lists the seven pillars of ‘connecting with absolutely anyone’ and is well worth a read. Here are our thoughts.


  1. Be authentic. There’s nothing like authenticity to wake a meeting or a relationship up: it is the jewel in the crown of interpersonal tools. It is also the best way to live your life. If you are authentically yourself, it will be easy for your natural allies to find you. (And by the way, your natural non-allies will at the very least see you and respect you also, which is its own kind of connection.)


  1. Be helpful. The true test of confidence is having the courage to help others – rather than clambering up and pulling the ladder up behind you. Helping people as a matter of course (ie before you want or need something) puts goodwill in the bank. This is quite a magical one and you never know who will be your ally when you need one – it can be a wonderful surprise when you see who does step up. People are more inclined to help a boss or a colleague who is going to bring them along when they succeed.


  1. Pay attention. Don’t just gloss over the other person’s values, desires or fears. Don’t assume you ‘understand’. Ask and then listen.


  1. Find the connections. Especially in Ireland, there are so few degrees of separation between people. It’s almost always possible to find a connector who might be able to help you break the ice with someone or who, by knowing them, serves to almost pre-vet you in the other person’s eyes.


This does not only work with networking: in relationships with an adversarial colleague or a difficult boss (or a grumpy relative), ‘find the connections’ there too. Filmmaker Michael Moore has a great story about this: when sitting on a plane next to somebody who hates him, his modus is to take out a piece of paper, make a list of the things they agree on and start there. This can be annoying to do with somebody you deeply dislike but ask yourself: what is your goal? That is the reason you’re doing this.


  1. Be persistent and follow up. Indeed, at Broadly Speaking we have found that following up is one of the great secrets to life. People are busy: some deal with hundreds of emails and requests a day. Not getting back to you usually means nothing and should not be taken personally. In business, an email followed by a phone call gives the person advance notice that a request is coming, and something to read and refer to once you’ve hung up.


  1. Make real friends. Actively consider whose friendships you would like to cultivate. Aim to create relationships with people, groups, communities and companies with whom you share at least one significant value. That’s a lot of your work done for you.


  1. Remain unforgettable. For us, this is another version of ‘be authentic’ with an add-on of personal elegance. Be impeccable with your word and, as my mother would say, classy in all you do. Create a career and way of being where you can stand behind everything you do. Be kind to waitstaff. Send thank you notes. Do your homework impeccably. Go beyond. As Michelle Obama said, go high.

Someone difficult

We’ve one more piece of advice – know when to hold ‘em and know when to fold ‘em. When dealing with someone difficult, keep your goal in mind. Is there a reason to keep trying? Keep your own integrity in mind also: do not feel compelled to work extra hard over someone unworthy of your attention. At a certain point, do not continue banging your fists on a door that won’t open. Be faultlessly classy, authentic and pleasant (kill them with kindness, as the saying goes) and stay aware of your own gut feeling. It’s okay to walk away and (metaphorically or actually) talk to someone else. Moreover, sometimes we do not win people over by talking them into or out of something. Sometimes we change hearts and minds by example or in other ways. Play a long game.


We don’t have the secret to a conflict-free life: no-one does. But ponder these ideas over the break and try them on your most obstreperous Christmas dinner guest if you dare –you’ll be all set to take on the world when you go back to work. Happy Christmas!