While differences in opinion are nothing new, the passion over those differences has been ignited in recent times. When it comes to the conversations inside and outside the workplace, how can we learn to communicate effectively with someone who doesn’t share our viewpoint?
We explore this topic with Michael Juce, Managing Director in Manitoba with Prairie Sky Strategy. Michael has seen his fair share of opposing viewpoints in his public affairs, government relations and advocacy work, and we’re fortunate to have him share his knowledge with us today.
The issue of polarization is top of mind in business and in life, according to Michael.
Michael stresses the importance of finding common ground with those we don’t necessarily agree with, referencing a commercial from this year’s Superbowl that promotes a similar message. We all have some common ground, Michael believes—the health and safety of our families, for instance, or making our community a better place to live.
“We may have differences of opinion on how we get there,” he says, “but I think the end goal and the end vision we all have is very likely aligned.”
So, how do we not only open our minds to different points of view, but manage them?
Seek out those with opposing views
We tend to focus on those with similar views, following like minded people on social media and consuming content that aligns with what we believe. Michael suggests getting outside our comfort zones and doing the opposite—following people who have a different point of view and listening to podcasts we might not usually listen to.
Michael discusses the book Originals, by Adam Grant, which explains why embracing an original point of view can get you ahead.
Reach out and have a conversation with someone whose views differ from yours. Ask questions and discover how that person came to adopt their views.
“No two people are reading the same thing anymore or getting their information from the exact same place,” says Michael. This is a far cry from days past, which Michael likens to the Netflix royal drama, The Crown. This scene, set in the 1980s, shows the communications staff for the Queen and the prime minister eagerly awaiting the daily newspaper to see what the headline says—and hoping it favours their own agendas.
Another one to watch is The Social Dilemma, which explains how what we believe and even what we type into our search bars can affect the information that is fed to us.
While the source of the information we consume can shape our opinions, so can our morals. The Righteous Mind, by Jonathan Haidt, examines further how moral judgments arise from gut feelings rather than reason.
Define your company’s values and put them into action
“Have your values and be cognizant of how your organization is demonstrating them,” Michael says.
This Harvard Business Review article focuses on managing a team with conflicting political views, but it also offers sound advice for managers trying to moderate any difference in opinion by bringing it back to the company’s values.
Michael speaks highly of the book Political Risk, co-authored by former U.S secretary of state Condoleezza Rice and Stanford University professor Amy B. Zegart, as it provides case studies of businesses and the outcomes of their risk management strategies—or lack thereof. It’s an example of why company values matter and even more so, why it matters to execute them.
Open the lines of communication
We might not be sharing stories around the water cooler this year, but we can adopt other ways to communicate. With technology like Slack, Microsoft Teams or the new and somewhat exclusive Clubhouse app, businesses can foster communication no matter where their employees are working—and foster respectful, open conversation while they’re at it.
Just as you’re not aware of how someone gets their information, you’re also not aware of what’s happening in their day-to-day lives that shapes how they’re thinking or feeling—so ask.
From a managerial perspective, Michael suggests building those few extra minutes into a meeting and asking staff what’s new in their world. A brief, mental health check-in can go a long way for your staff and your business.
Recognizing that there can and will be a difference in opinion within your organization is the first step, while educating yourself and understanding how to manage those differences will help you—and your employees—get ahead.