The election is behind us and we can go back to business as usual. Sadly, my clients and colleagues tell me differently. The months and months of divisive blather has promoted an “us vs. them” mentality that has damaged cooperation and collaboration in workplaces and communities. When I visit my clients, I see an absence of chatter, people are pulled inward and show a reluctance for small talk in fear of slipping and saying something to offend the “other.” Last night in my weekly yoga class, of all places, one person suggested that we needed restorative poses (fellow yogi will know what that means) to recover from the election. Immediately someone piped in: “Please, no talk about that subject!”
If we can’t or won’t talk about this big elephant in the room, how can we move beyond it? I propose that we do know how to rebuild relationships. We just need to pull some of these practices of good relationship management into our daily discourse.
Relationship Management: Turning Differences into Understanding
By Dr. Alice Waagen
People who work in mediation and conflict resolution focus on finding common ground as the starting point for seeking resolution. Common ground, shared interests, shared values, brings the “other” closer to being “us.” Common ground can only be uncovered through discourse. As hard as it may feel right now, open conversation about what we believe is the basis for beginning to mend relationships.
In their book, Difficult Conversations: How to Discuss What Matters Most, Doug Stone, Bruce Patton and Sheila Heen challenge us to have a learning conversation. A learning conversation shifts the goal of the discourse away from judging and criticizing into just plain old understanding. Find someone who you know differs from your world view, sit down with them and start a learning conversation. Here’s how:
- Openly express that learning is the goal. Not agreeing or disagreeing, just hearing their point of view, their logic, and their thought processes. Ask questions, listen, and maintain eye contact while displaying an open posture and friendly expression.
- Duct-tape your mouth and critical mind. If you need to, breathe deeply. Consciously disable the judgmental part of your brain.
- Look for commonality, not differences. When you hear one, restate it. Show that your goal is to see the world their way.
- Listen far more than talk. The purpose of this conversation is for you to learn from them. If they want to hear your view, more the better, but this is not a debate. Best yet, schedule another conversation later to express your side. After you process this conversation, it may shift or change your views to be closer to theirs.
- Debrief with yourself afterward. How did this experience feel? What were your emotions? Anger, fear, relief, joy? What caused each? What does this tell you about your ability to hear the “other?”
- Identify what you see as the common ground. How far apart are we? Again, there is no judgement here, simply a gauge to see the distance there is between us. You may be surprised to find out that when you truly listen to learn, the distance is not as great as you may have thought.
In his Ted Talk entitled Can a Divided America Heal social psychology Jonathan Haidt talks about our very human attribute of having a tribal nature. As tribal creatures, we have a survival instinct to construct an “us vs. them” mentality for survival. That mentality may serve well in an earlier time, but it does not serve us well in business organizations that depend on teamwork and collaboration for success. We need to quickly look for ways to bridge differences by discovering the common ground that binds and promotes open conversation and trust.