Election season is upon us. It’s hard to avoid since it’s literally permeating every aspect of our daily lives. It always seems to every 4 years, but this year seems like overload. The trifecta perhaps- novel coronavirus, civil unrest, and a presidential election. It can be hard to know which way is up, which direction is the right direction, and what to prioritize. Yet, we must. In our interpersonal relationships, differences of opinion can become wedges that drive us apart- with our family or friends and our co-workers.
There are two things that always come to mind when I think of civility and humanity in politics. The first relates to comedian, Dana Carvey. He famously portrayed George H.W. Bush on Saturday Night Live. Bush, finding the impression humorous, reached out to Carvey, starting a decades-long friendship. After losing the election in 1992, he invited Carvey to The White House to put on a show to cheer up staff. Their friendship was not based on worldviews or policies, but on kindness and mutual respect. The election Bush lost was to none other than Bill Clinton. Clinton and Bush were fierce rivals, with vastly different ideas on leadership. Yet, later in life, after their respective presidencies, they started working on a humanitarian initiative together. This led to a longstanding personal friendship between the two (and their families) that has been well documented. After the lights go out, these are just people. People that have families, and dreams, and challenges.
There will be differences of opinion on topics that are of great importance in our lives. Those differences do not need to be impediments to our relationships. With that in mind, here are a few tips that may help:
- See the person, not the opinion.
- Every person in our lives is a unique human being, with fears, hopes, aspirations, and dreams. What side of a particular issue someone may stand on does not negate their humanity? When we see others as human, we treat them accordingly. And yes, it is entirely possible to care deeply about someone with whom you have sharp disagreements.
- Try to understand, not react.
- When we listen so that we can come up with a retort, we are not truly listening. Reaction is just that. Seeking to understand why someone believes something gives a deeper understanding of the stance. Understanding does not mean agreement will ensue. In fact, it probably won’t. But taking the time to understand shows that you care about them and their thought processes enough to engage.
- Find common ground.
- Differences are exaggerated in times of election for an obvious reason. You have a choice, A or B. If A or B were close together, you would not know who to pick. The truth is that as people, we have far more in common than not. Finding those commonalities bonds us. The importance of family, the need for a paycheck, or even being a fan of a specific sports team are things that transcend politics.
- Limit exposure to wall-to-wall news coverage.
- More than ever before, there is a flood of information: television, social media, websites, radio, podcasts, and the like. Exposure to political content constantly can engage a lot of strong emotions that have little practical use. Staying informed is important, but being overly informed or bombarded has little utility other than to stir emotions. Have a “shut down” point, and stick to it.
- Be respectful and kind.
- Above all else, treat others with respect and kindness. This may seem obvious, but in the midst of sometimes difficult conversations, it can be tough. It may take extra effort, or a reminder before engaging in a conversation that, no matter what, I will be kind and respectful of the other person. Doing so will help to elicit a response in kind.
Following these tips can help employees remain productive, friendly, and open-minded. If you need further help or want to ensure tension in the workplace does not occur, check out R3 Continuum’s Facilitated Discussions. Learn how R3c can help make teams stronger, despite having differences in opinion.
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