The Collaboration Effect ® is all about connecting relationships, actively listening and educating judiciously to negotiate closure. This can work very well when applied to business, home or in life. But what about with individuals with whom we disagree? In this commentary the emphasis is on finding shared values and identities by focusing on the individual. This technique can even work with those with whom we disagree politically. That is a very powerful statement.
However, remember you can only pull a rope. You cannot push a rope. If the other party is firm in their position and is not willing to interact with you, that is there position. Walk away. However, if the other party is at least willing to interact with you, that indicates there is at least a spark of hope. The ideas presented here may just allow you to take that spark and potentially develop it into a better relationship.
Find shared values and identities
We all have three levels of diversity. Exploring your own and then considering those of another can go a long way towards initiating a process towards understanding and bridging a gap. As a generalization here are three areas to consider for your own diversity.
Primary – visible: race, age, ethnicity, gender, physical abilities, sexual orientation and class;
Secondary – below the surface: religious belief, nationality, geographic location, marital status, parental status, education, income, work background, and military experience.; and
Tertiary – learning style, personality and professional orientation.
Take a moment and write out your own primary, secondary and tertiary levels of diversity to explore your own uniqueness.
Seriously, write out your own. This will give you pause to think about them for yourself.
Now what about the individual with whom you disagree. How much do you know about that person?
Write down what you know about your adversary’s diversity.
There likely is room for you to explore more about the other party. One question to ask, is where do we have shared identities and values? The chances are very good it is there somewhere. So, how do I find out what it is or what they are?
How can I connect at a deeper and better level?
· Based on your own diversity, can you explore something where you may have a mutual connection?
· Are you connected geographically, have strong family values, have a strong sense of family, are you both active politically?
· Beyond the items listed above as primary, secondary and tertiary areas of diversity, are there other areas to consider?
Are there areas where you definitely don’t have anything in common?
· If so, what are they?
· List them out.
With your perception of what you have and don’t have in common, this presents an opportunity to talk about the way you see each other. With this conversation, you may see each other in a new light.
Staying within our tribe or branching out
We like to be with others that are similar to us. By trying something like this it may be possible to bridge differences and find ways to relate to each other that were unexpected.
When we find ways to relate to each other by emphasizing what we have in common we can be more empathetic and cooperative with one another.
Having attended workshops with better angels I have personally witnessed republicans and democrats actually sitting down together to discuss issues with one another. There are those that want to feed the fire and promote hate and distrust. They don’t like this idea of actually looking for common ground and reaching out to each other. Isn’t that what we are really called to do? Aren’t we called upon to love they neighbor? Does our concern for sustainability and peace encourage us to work with one another? Isn’t it important to try to understand each other at work at home and in life? Generating Z coming along is expecting this.
Focus on the individual
We tend to be threatened by those not like us. That is in part survival to keep us safe. What we don’t know can hurt us. You know how it feels. When this happens your heart beats faster. You feel your adrenaline kicking in. You may experience fear, apprehension or anxiety for example.
To help calm the fire, ask yourself some questions about the other person. This may help bridge the gap. For example:
· Is that person a night owl or early riser?
· Does that person like dogs or cats?
· Does the person have a particular hobby or interest such as exercise or reading?
When you begin to ask questions like these you begin to think of the other person as an individual with interests other than the group membership. You begin to think of the other person as a person rather than a demagogue of a particular group.
If we don’t take any action to understand the other person as a person, we tend to see the other person as simply a member of “that group”.
By taking a risk and asking questions to explore the other party as a person with interests and feelings it is possible to initiate a connection. This tends to reduce stress.
By seeing the other person as a person with individual features it may be possible to move well beyond stereotypes and really see the other person as an individual. This phenomenon is real. For example, the Sisterhood Salaam and Shalom brings together Muslims and Jews from the U.S., Canada and England to create understanding and lasting friendships. There are many other examples such as in Northern Ireland where groups that have taken the initiative to cross boundaries to promote individual relationships to gain understanding.
What about political issues?
A new study suggests that bringing together friends and family to discuss political disagreements helps us make better voting decisions.
Today we have been encouraged by our groups to view the other side’s perspective as unreasonable, unethical and clearly wrong. Who promotes this and why? The study indicates that when we leave our bubble and actually listen to others, we look at political decisions more broadly. This is healthy. The study indicates this works with friends and family we actually meet with face to face. It was not found to be effective in social media settings such as twitter. They tend to be far less personal.
When you have to sit down with someone face to face and hear their words, the tone of their words, and the corresponding facial and body language, this provides much better cues to the underlying commentary. From the new study, “If you’re up to the challenge of doing so, organizations like Better Angels, the One America Movement, and The People’s Supper can help.”
So, what are the next steps to take action?
To take action:
Write out your diversity for all three levels
Write out the diversity of the other party from what you know
Explore what you have in common
Explore what you don’t have in common
Reach out to the other party
Ask questions to explore diversity, interests and feelings with exploratory and open-ended questions
Find ways to connect individually with the other party
Build on those connections
Based on those connections, actively listen and work together to address mutual interests.
There is no one size fits all relative to connecting with those with whom you disagree, but consider adding the information provided here to your own tool box. Perhaps there are some ideas that can help you overcome adversity with another party with whom you disagree at work, home or in life. As with anything it takes practice. Start small and with a minor disagreement. Learn from the process and take steps with more difficult situations going forward. Do your best and know you did your best to try and overcome the conflict. In the end don’t blame yourself. It’s not up to you. If someone does not want to interact with you, that’s up to them.