I have a coworker who is really awesome. We get along well, and I really admire her work ethic and her communication style. We often have similar ideas and productive brainstorming sessions. I know, however, that our political ideals are on opposite ends of the spectrum, and I believe that her politics hurt other people I love. Do you have any advice? – Olivia, Rochester
I have to be transparent, I’m not sure I’m the best to answer this question. I get easily frustrated around the polarization happening in our country. I strive to understand facts and base my perspective around them. However, not all of us operate like this. That old saying “perception is reality” scares me as I see a lot of perception muddying the world of actuality.
There is a great interview in Maria Shriver’s Sunday Paper on this topic. Mónica Guzmán from Braver Angels, an organization dedicated to bringing Americans together and bridging the partisan divide, spoke on how to understand and navigate tough conversations.
Guzmán uses the acronym SOS to explain why we are experiencing such divisive perspectives. SOS is sorting, othering and siloing, which she defines:
- Sorting is that very natural human tendency to be around people who are like us because it’s more comfortable. It’s easier. It’s fun. We tend to do it a lot when we’re anxious and stressed.
- Othering is about the distance we put between ourselves and those we deem different. We don’t even have to deem them that different to begin to discriminate. And whoa, that’s when we can do some crazy things to each other.
- Siloing is the stories that surround us and the ways in which our technology helps us with all of that. We end up in these silos that, over time, get deeper and deeper where the communication of people who are not like us begins to feel more and more foreign.
Fear and uncertainty also hold us back from having open conversations. Culturally, Minnesotans are known for avoiding tough conversations. For all of us to grow, we must get more curious, a little uncomfortable and seek to understand each other’s whys. Why do you feel like that? Why do you think that? Why is that important to you? Often, by digging deeper, people may learn that they don’t know their whys except that, “XZY said so” or “they saw it on the internet.” Digging deeper can bring greater understanding for both parties.
The beauty about humankind is our differences. Michele Norris, founder of The Race Card Project, said at the United Way event Power of Purpose in June, “We don’t have to talk about it. We’re lucky because we get to talk about it.” Google tips on how to have tough conversations. Then, with openness and curiosity, seek to learn and understand, even though you may not agree with the other person. You and your world will grow from doing so.
To read the entire Guzmán interview, search online for, “How to Have a Conversation with Anyone (Even Your Enemy).”