Most of us exist in ideological bubbles.
I live in a very, very blue neighborhood. It’s the kind of place where, when a Democrat gets elected, people party in the streets. I come from a very, very red background. Most of my family, and the people I grew up with, are squarely Republican. I don’t fit easily into either of the major political camps, but the data out there indicates that I’m the exception, not the rule. As our political identities increasingly seem to consume our whole lives, we are less likely to interact with anyone outside of our particular bubble.
But there’s one place our bubbles disappear, where we regularly interact with others that we didn’t select for their like-mindedness. Here, civility is the undisputed norm, and reds, blues, and outliers like me cooperate to get things done: the magical land of work!
Trade makes us civilized
We need work, largely because it provides the means to feed our families and support our interests and passions outside of the workplace. Many of us also find it gives us purpose, to use our talents and gifts to a productive end. In our workplaces, we restrain our passions, our prejudices, and our preferences for who we interact with, so that our work can flourish.
You don’t ask if your colleague shares your views on universal health care before you start working together on a presentation for a client. You collaborate and pitch to the client. A plumber doesn’t google the political donation history of his customers before deciding whether to fix their toilet. That would be a tough way to run a business.
We need each other—as colleagues, as customers, as business partners—and so, in the marketplace, we find ways to interact that are peaceful.
Compromise isn’t a dirty word
In our political interactions, “compromise” can be a dirty word and is often treated as betrayal. Our recent podcast guest, Bob Feldman, founder of The Dialogue Project, points out that this is not the case in the business world. In business, compromise is a good and necessary part of our interactions. At work, we disagree respectfully and find a path forward, even if we don’t see eye to eye on everything. After years in leadership at a variety of businesses, Bob believes that there’s a great deal of good that the business world can do to help depolarize the country.
The way we are at work proves that we’re capable of coexisting with others and even cooperating, despite our differences. That gives me hope that we can find inspiration there to figure out how to live together everywhere else, too.
Bob started The Dialogue Project to study what role business can play in encouraging civil discourse and depolarization, in the workplace and beyond. Check out our conversation with Bob to hear what he’s learned from the business world that can carry over to practicing respectful discussion in the rest of our lives.
5 links worth your time
- Our Best Ideas Come From Our People, The Dialogue Project – Doug McMillon, President and CEO of Walmart, talks about what it looks like to have a corporate culture that encourages collaboration, communication, and the sharing of diverse opinions. Listening to the people that make up the company allows Walmart to tackle difficulties when they arise, and that’s something we can all learn from.
- To Build a Better Society, Start with Better Arguments, The Dialogue Project – Sure, businesses can do a lot of talking about disagreeing well, but does that actually work in practice? Allstate and the Aspen Institute partnered together to create a program that tackles difficult issues head on and encourages constructive disagreement. Read more about their conversation in Detroit about race, class, and neighborhood identity.
- The Social Voice of CEOs, ProMarket – Have you noticed an uptick in companies talking about social issues in recent years? Dr. Swarondeep Homroy dug into the actions of CEOs to figure out why they’re speaking out on social issues and if there’s a strategy behind that activism. The results may surprise you.
- Don’t Let Politics Poison the Workplace: Some Advice from Business School Experts, Insights – Managers are hired to manage the business, not facilitate heated political conversation. These experts weigh in on how managers can create a peaceful environment in the workplace amidst political polarization in a contentious election year.
- For Companies, Talking Politics or Opining on Social Issues Can Be Like Stepping on a Landmine, BU Today – When is it appropriate for a company to weigh in on a political issue, and why? This piece examines the tradeoffs companies face when deciding where, when, and why to make political statements and the consequences of these decisions.
Photo by gstockstudio on Adobe Stock