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GUEST COLUMN: Springs needs productive dialogue

By: Chris Cipoletti
April 9, 2017 Updated: April 10, 2017 at 12:21 pm
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At times communities struggle with productive, effective and civil dialogue; Colorado Springs is not immune. Our conversations can criticize, confront and accuse rather than build, encourage and support the efforts of people with whom we don't always agree. As the board of the Colorado Springs Leadership Institute, a nonprofit established in 1997 to train and support local leaders and to create networks of people who might not otherwise share common community connections, we promote Productive Dialogue - our 2017 theme.

We watched as the 2016 national election took us to new levels of accusatory and ineffective communication. We saw the same unhealthy conflicts play out in our recent City Council elections. While these failures to communicate, build community and engage in civil discourse have played out in our election cycles, they are not unique to public service. We regularly see destructive dialogue in business dealings and among business leaders, in faith-based communities with attacks on belief structures and with civic organizations fighting for limited resources.

This approach is not helping us, as individuals and as a city, to develop and grow into the vibrant, engaged and productive community we have the ability to become. We now have a chance to learn from our failed communications and our poor interactions with each other; we need to avoid repeating the mistakes of the past. As leaders in this community, we are committed to doing our part to advance productive dialogue - in our public, civic, faith-based and business lives.

In February, working with Pikes Peak United Way, we hosted a two-day training on productive dialogue. Assisted by the Center for Creative Leadership's skilled staff, community leaders were provided tools and trained on productive dialogue; they could use those skills in their daily lives facilitating and fostering conversations intended to build relationships and bridge differences. Rather than focus on what separates us, the training invited leaders to channel communications in an honest and affirming way.

Productive dialogue doesn't mean we avoid or ignore conflict and differences of opinion. Rather, it means we deal with them constructively. We don't assume the worst about people; we don't personalize differences of opinion; we don't engage in name calling. Instead, we put issues on the table, we allow people to express their thoughts, and we treat people with dignity.

As the board of a growing leadership organization in Colorado Springs (we now proudly number more than 300 leaders from elected office, business, religious organizations, nonprofits and community organizations), we are committed to making Colorado Springs a vibrant city through productive dialogue. We will do our part to hold our leaders - elected, appointed, hired or volunteer - to a standard that elevates all of us. We encourage each citizen of our city to do the same. Whether in your personal, business or civic life, be civil in your communications and hold those with whom you interact accountable to the same level of civility.

We know productive dialogue is difficult. We've all been on the receiving and delivering end of destructive dialogue. But it is time for us to step forward, keeping our conversations and our interactions with each other civilized so that we are working together, rather than at odds, with each other. If we commit to working collaboratively, we will be a vibrant city that is a great place to live, work and visit.

Please join us in making 2017 the year Colorado Springs starts on a path of productive dialogue. Pay attention to conversations; note how often they lead to helpful and productive outcomes and how often they fuel criticism and distance between participants. Paying attention to what we say and how we say it is the first step toward building a stronger, more civil society. We want everyone to be productively engaged in our community.

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Christopher Cipoletti submitted the above on behalf of the Colorado Springs Leadership Institute board of directors.

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