Why can’t we disagree constructively?

It seems pretty reasonable that, especially when it comes to trying to change the world, it’s ideal for lively debate and discussion to be welcome in pursuit of the best decisions. If we all agree all the time and no one ever presents a dissenting opinion, we won’t have much chance of improving the way we go about changing the world.

And yet – time and time again, I see attempts to bring differing viewpoints into a discussion shut down just as fast as possible. The recent kerfuffle here in Edmonton over a controversial Facebook discussion being deleted and closed to comments is just one example.

When something is being done with good intentions, it seems, it isn’t socially acceptable to question, challenge, or criticize it. People who do quickly get labeled as “haters”, and their concerns go unaddressed.

There is the issue of how this feedback is delivered – we, as a society, do not seem to be very good at delivering tough messages respectfully and constructively. I often wonder how we can build this capacity – maybe from childhood.

But even when feedback is coming in a less-than-ideal form; even when there’s a great deal of negative emotion attached to it, it often has value.

People don’t get angry for no reason. Being frustrated is not the same as being wrong. We should all have our voices heard, even if we don’t all have PhDs in communication and diplomacy.

So how can we do this? How can we, as do-gooders, cultivate a culture of constructive dissent?

How do we learn to treat difficult feedback as the golden opportunity it so often is? How do we develop the ability to deliver it in a way that gets heard?

How can we live with the inefficiency, ineffectiveness, and missed opportunities for real change that will continue to result if we don’t?