There is a lot dividing us these days. Whether it’s on the national political stage or in our own local workplace, we should be wary of the wedge that seeks to separate us.
On the national level are huge issues such as health care and race relations that require thoughtful and deliberate attention with respectful communication and solution-seeking collaboration. One side will not convince the other that they are wrong. But if people on both sides—our representatives in government as well as concerned citizens—are open-minded and listen respectfully to each other, there is room for us to unite around where we agree. And that is the beginning of the compromise necessary to find sustainable solutions.
President Trump says his opposition to NFL players taking a knee has “nothing to do with race” but has to do with “respect for our country and respect for our flag.” San Francisco 49ers Eric Reid writes that the protests he and Colin Kaepernick began by taking a knee have nothing to do with the flag and that it was meant to be a respectful gesture to protest police brutality against people of color. Can we be respectful of both perspectives?
Is it possible to raise awareness with regard to racial injustice without disrespecting the flag? Is it possible to take a knee during the national anthem without having it perceived as disrespecting the flag? This requires thoughtful discussion rather than dismissiveness.
We live at a time when politicians, pundits and Russian hackers via social media bots are deliberately trying to drive a wedge between Americans to keep us from having meaningful and productive discussions. Although this has been effective in the short-term at dividing us, this is counter-productive and needs to cease in order for us to move forward.
In the workplace, far too many organizations have encouraged or ineffectively discouraged the silo mentality that so often pits one person or workgroup against another. The lack of an “organization-wide team” mentality means the competitive spirit that is so important in beating external competitors is spent internally on pitting employees against each other.
We see this in hiring and promoting practices where the policy looks equitable on the surface, yet employees know many examples of people who are hired or promoted into senior positions without necessarily playing by the rules or demonstrating integrity. We also see it when one leader is rewarded for getting results despite the negative impact he or she has had on other leaders and their teams.
To suggest we need to always find consensus and conduct business in a way that doesn’t end in disagreements and disappointments is unrealistic. Business has winners and losers. What’s important is that we find respectful ways to really hear each other in service of the best solutions—not only those from the most dominant voices.
If NFL players can spend 60 minutes hitting and tackling each other, and then at the conclusion of the game give each other a handshake or hug, I think we can learn something from them. This is called good sportsmanship. It’s something we teach our children to demonstrate at soccer games, so why don’t we as adults abide by this in the workplace?
This means attacking the problem and not the people. When there is disagreement on the best approach for solving a problem, don’t look to criticize those people with alternative plans. Instead, seek to fully understand and evaluate their position before presenting your own.
Seek first to understand and then to be understood, wrote Stephen R. Covey in his classic best-selling book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. This is not meant only for senior executives, but for personal leadership at every level in the organization. Only when you are able to fully understand another’s perspective can you hope to engage in an effective conversation.
So much misunderstanding stems from our making false assumptions and being defensive or intolerant. These prevent us from being able to actively listen to each other in order to fully understand the other’s perspective.
“The purist form of listening is to listen without memory or desire,” wrote psychoanalyst Wilfred Bion. When you listen with memory, you have an old agenda. And when you listen with desire, you have a new agenda that you’re going to plug into the other person. Neither is effective to fully understand and appreciate the speaker’s perspective.
In order for us to be more united whether on a national level or in the workplace, will require us to truly engaging with each other in a respectful manner. This means seeking to understand before being understood. It requires the empathy to truly place yourself in the other person’s shoes before rejecting their perspective. It means monitoring your assumptions, defensiveness and intolerance.
United we will stand, divided we will fall.