Do We Have to Discuss This?
There are two subjects we are never supposed to discuss in polite society and one of them is politics. But in today’s heated environment, it’s worth asking—is the absence of friendly dialogue really helping us? People are now “de-friending” those who don’t agree with them on Facebook and selecting news sources that confirm their biases. We don’t have to be sociologists to know this is unhealthy, because it is fragmenting society and impacting the workplace, too. I’m not suggesting our voting preference become an agenda item at the team meeting, but pretending these issues are not bubbling under the surface is naïve. It’s not the mention of politics we should fear—it’s polarization.
What Is Going on Here?
Battle lines have been formed and each side is pushing the other in a corner, creating a “divide and conquer” situation where a family, workplace, or society turns on itself because of differences—to the delight of our enemies and our competition. By feeding the biases we already have (or planting some) and then vilifying the other side, our ability to interact in a healthy way is compromised. Even those of us who want to avoid the fray get pulled in; and when we’re provoked, the “fight or flight” chemical gets released, which distorts our perspective and emotions. We are no longer behaving rationally, and we start doing things that provoke the other side. It’s a vicious cycle that’s been playing out politically for years—even if it’s masked a bit at work. But differences don’t have to separate us if we manage them, and doing so may allow us to prevent 2020 from becoming unbearable.
What Can We Do About It?
Here are some suggestions for keeping the peace at work and elsewhere.
- Be respectful—even when others choose not to be. This means being considerate and kind around this subject but also discreet. Give thought to whom you speak with, what you say, and when you say it, because being judicious will increase your credibility.
- Be calm—don’t get hooked by the cortisol. Resist getting worked up or saying things that are provocative (it’s unproductive anyway).
- Be fair—both sides need to stop exaggerating and check their facts. Try to be balanced and objective by not believing everything you hear that happens to support your position. This means recognizing your bias and refusing to defend what you’d consider wrong if the opposing party did it.
- Be understanding—we don’t have to agree with someone to accept them, and sometimes friendly disagreement can be healthy. We certainly aren’t going to convert others by attacking them, and nobody wins when we stop communicating.
In closing, whatever our politics, we can’t give in to divisiveness. We need to be a voice for sanity. If this is a topic of interest for you, consider joining me for a free one-hour webinar on “Dealing with Incivility and Promoting Respect at Work” on January 22nd at 1pm EST. In the meantime, let’s start 2020 with a commitment to healthier dialogue.