After reading a Harvard Business Review Daily Management Tip (How to Talk with Your Team About the Violence at the U.S. Capitol (hbr.org)) about discussing the events that occurred at the capitol last week with your teams, I began pondering the value and merits of such a discussion. I respect HBR expertise and opinions on what would bring value but also felt concerned about how people may respond, what they might say, and what damage might be done within our teams. I discussed this topic with some of my team members, my husband (also a manager), and others whom I respect. Each reacted a little differently but they all had a common themes: “Why would you want to do that?” “Aren’t you worried about what people might say?” “What if it damages working relationships?”
I truly related to their gut reactions, in fact, my own gut reaction was quite similar. In fact, I was surprised anyone would suggest talking about such a potentially devise topic in the workplace. Typically, when a suggestion like the one in the HBR article appears to be so contradictory to my natural gut reaction, I find myself wanting to ponder the contradiction more deeply. As I reflected and discussed the topic further, I tried to believe talking about these issues must be important – but why? Why is it important to talk about what makes us uncomfortable, angry, sad, fearful, upset, embarrassed, frustrated, etc.? Why should we take the unnecessary risk to discuss topics which could cause greater discomfort?
I can’t say with absolute certainty I know the answer to these questions. I am willing to bet other researches could provide a more scientific explanation. For me, I think we may need to talk about hard topics in order to recognize “we” have a problem that only “we” can solve together. By “WE” I most literally mean everyone – in every job, in every role, in every state, in every home, and in every business; of all genders, races, socioeconomic statuses, and backgrounds. We have gotten ourselves into this polarized mess and we must work together to get out of it. I am sure every person reading this has heard some of the following statements recently:
- “This is all their fault”
- “They are not like us. They don’t get it!”
- “They must be lying”
- “They are out to get us”
- “They refuse to see the truth, unlike us”
- “How could they believe this, why are they like this?”
Feel free to insert any group or person into either category “they” or “us” and you have probably heard the same statement made by both sides on an infinite number of occasions. As a result, discussions devolve into “them/they” versus “us” and why one group is right and another is wrong. The world was never meant to be divided into two groups – we are incredibly diverse and our diversity brings so much value – so why are we allowing ourselves to fall into these polarizing (and self limiting) categories of beliefs?
Ask any historian and they will tell you history is rarely so clear cut that one group is completely right and another completely wrong. Deep down we know this to be true of ourselves as well. We each can remember at least one disagreement we’ve had where neither person was truly “right” and both points of view were valid perspectives.
Many research studies have been conducted in this area where two individuals are shown the exact same picture and asked to describe it. Each person will remember and describe it in a completely different way. Our perspectives, life experiences, education, skills, etc. have created the lens through which we see the world and cause us to interpret things differently. Just because we interpret things differently doesn’t make our interpretation right and another’s wrong – they are just different. Unfortunately, we (the collective everyone “we“) have become so accustomed to believing only those who we identify with, we’ve stopped considering the possibility that an alternative (and equally valuable) perspective may also exist. Furthermore, that alternative perspective (if we chose to consider it with an open mind) might actually help us to better solve the problems we are facing: individually, in our workplaces, in our homes, in our families, in our government, and in the world.
What we really need right now is more WE and less them and us. We (as mothers and fathers, employees, spouses, and leaders) need to look for the common ground and learn from each other rather than fight with each other. When doing so, we must be respectful, which means being clear, kind, honest, considerate, thoughtful, and open minded. We can absolutely disagree while talking about hard things and still be respectful of others. We must also acknowledge when we are wrong or when we lack the information necessary to form an informed opinion.
I am not sure when the tipping point will occur. It may take until we are so miserable being angered, sad, frustrated, exhausted, pissed off, fearful, etc. that we realize we have to try something different to move past this point in history. I hope it does not take much longer. As a mother, for my children, I want a world where “WE” come together, we talk about the hard topics, we look at issues from lots of perspectives, we value truth and honesty, and we solve problems and challenges working together to make this world better. We can’t solve these issues with soundbites, memes, GIFs, tweets, texts or even blog posts like this one. We need to communicate by talking with each other, engaging with each other, learning about each other as human beings and definitely not simplifying positions into “them/they” or “us.” We each have a unique story and experience to bring to these discussions which just might help us find an answer no one ever thought about or believed to be possible.
This level of engagement and discussion won’t be possible until we all begin to put down our metaphorical swords (especially our negative and hurtful words and extreme over generalizations) and begin to meaningfully engage with one another. I prefer to believe and am hopeful generally most people are inherently good and ultimately want to find a way to move forward together in a better way.
I don’t have an answer right now for how or where these discussions can or should take place. What I do know is we absolutely have to start having them. We have to learn the “they” may (and most likely does) include someone we love and respect and the “us” might include others with opinions who we don’t or shouldn’t love and respect.
In my opinion, for the sake of our children, our families, our workplaces, our communities, and our country WE must engage in meaningful and respectful discussions while also drawing an uncrossable line at violence, dishonesty, and hate. As a parent I have told my son there are two things Mama says are never ok – lying and hurting others. I hold these ethical and moral boundaries as an absolute – it is never acceptable to hurt another person and telling the truth is always better than lying no matter the consequences. These boundaries are not negotiable, debatable, or modifiable, they are absolute and WE must demonstrate our commitment to be better today than were yesterday.
In conclusion, after reflecting on this topic, I think we must begin to engage and learn more from one another by having respectful conversations and discussions. I do think these discussions need to have some very critical “Rules of Engagement” to ensure they do not devolve in the typical ineffective debates. I’ve started a list below I think could be valuable but would welcome comments or suggestions on what should be included.
Rules of Engagement
- Be Truthful – Always share only your personal truth and experiences. Avoid discussing anything where you lack a factual basis for your position.
- Be Honest – Don’t make up stories or information to prove your position or point. Be honest when you don’t know something and if you are unsure of how you feel about something.
- Be Factual– If you lack factual data or information, take the time to research and come prepared with factual information only. Remember – just because something is on social media does not make it factual.
- Show Respect – Treat everyone the way you would want the most important person in your life (God, Jesus, a spouse, a parent, a child) to be treated.
- Seek to Understand – Start from a place of curiosity about alternative view points, perspectives, or information you may not know.
- Learn – Approach the conversation as if you are learning something new and assume you don’t know everything. Realistically it is impossible to know everything on any topic no matter who you are.
I look forward to reading any comments or suggestions others have on this topic. Thank you for taking the time to read this article.