Respectful Dialogues Guide

The University of British Columbia has responsibility for and is committed to providing its students, staff and faculty with an environment dedicated to excellence, equity and mutual respect. Personal harassment and bullying are harmful to a respectful environment and therefore have no place at UBC.

When engaging with others in dialogue or debate, consider the following basic principles and practices:


Actively Listen

  • Practice active listening, instead of thinking only about what you are waiting to say next.
  • Speak for yourself, and let others speak for themselves.
  • Instead of putting words in another person’s mouth, ask the other person to clarify: “What did you mean?”
  • Try asking genuine questions, rather than only rhetorical questions.
  • Seek a fulsome understanding of the other person’s point of view.  Sometimes disagreement is based on an incomplete or misunderstanding of the another’s actual point of view.
  • Respond to the thread of a conversation before starting a new thread. Building on ideas enables a dialogue to go deeper.


Stay Respectful

  • Practice the ability to disagree with an idea without attacking the speaker.
  • Belittling, humiliating comments are major impediments to dialogue.
  • Try to avoid “conformity bias” and “group-think.”
  • Avoid cutting off dialogue prematurely, but consider taking a break to lower the temperature.
  • Pay attention to sharing speaking time and not repeating ideas.
  • Everyone shares responsibility for a productive dialogue, even if there is a designated “facilitator.”


Be Mindful of Your Words

  • Analogies and metaphors can be helpful but are never perfect.
  • Oversimplifying complex issues can aggravate and deepen differences.
  • Highly inflammatory language can cause people to stop listening.
  • Generalizing formulations about an individual or a group of people, such as “you always…” or “all __ think that…” are probably untrue.
  • Lengthy speeches or monologues are antithetical to productive dialogue.


Recognize Diversity and Practice Inclusion

  • Communication styles are not uniform; these differences might be socially conditioned, such as physical proximity, volume of speech, pauses.
  • Sharing a language does not always mean equivalent levels of fluency.
  • Words convey different meanings to different individuals, even when they share a common language. Try asking: “How are you using the word ___?”
  • Because ideas from multiple perspectives and knowledge domains can deepen and broaden understanding of complex issues, seek to make connections between diverse ideas.


Explore More Resources:
UBC Statement on Respectful Environment for Students, Faculty and Staff.
President’s message to the UBC Community on Respectful Debate
Academic Calendar (Vancouver) – Policies and Regulations – Academic Freedom


Download Guides:
UBC Resources and Supports for Respectful Debate (pdf)
Respectful Dialogue and Debate: Principles and Practices (pdf)