How To Build Bridges Even When You Disagree 100%
Growing up in Germany, I remember my Dad subscribing to a weekly magazine that largely represented political views different from our own. When I asked him about this, he responded “I like to know how the other side thinks!”
It used to be common advice to “avoid politics and religion” in most social situations or during work-related conversations. And that was before we entered an extremely polarized media environment where much of society primarily consumes news and information designed to reinforce our existing points of view.
Tragically, the daily echo chamber of news alerts on our phones, the opinions expressed on our favorite television shows, and the views shared on our social media channels have served to divide families, communities, nations, and even the world. Very few people actually are exposed to how the other side thinks. We don’t feel listened to or understood.
There is a growing lack of trust that has resulted in a major disconnect between the people and the politicians. Sadly, some politicians have sought to exploit this sad state of affairs for their own benefit.
I am not just talking about the political situation in the United States and the pending impeachment of Donald Trump but also Great Britain and Brexit, Germany and the migrant crisis, the street violence in Hong Kong, and even the social unrest in Chile.
With the year-end holiday season ahead, many of us already are dreading the uncomfortable political conversation at the Thanksgiving Dinner table or during the company holiday party. We think up strategies on how to avoid those conversations.
I encourage you to do the opposite.
Try as hard as you can NOT to judge. Try to understand. Actively listen. Make eye contact. Attempt to really get to the root of why someone believes what they believe.
Be a diplomat.
When you type “diplomat” into Google, the first definition pops up from the Oxford Dictionary: a person who can deal with people in a sensitive and effective way.
This is what great ambassadors, highly trained in diplomacy, do for their countries. Of course you hold dear your own value system and you do your best to represent the goals and objectives of your government. But you also listen, defer judgment, and try to ascertain the motivations that drive the person you are dealing with. This allows you to be sensitive and effective.
Be the diplomat in your family, in your company, in your community. Build bridges to people even when you disagree with them 100%. Let go of your prejudices and instead think of it as a learning opportunity.
On a regular basis, turn the channel to a different station, read an opinion column from someone you know you do not agree with. Engage in meaningful conversation with your uncle, cousin or co-worker whom you know to be on the other side of an issue you care about. Don’t treat this an opportunity – or existential fight – to change their mind. Be curious. Be understanding. You might just learn something.
I can assure you based on my personal experience of building bridges within my community and around the world, it is well worth the effort.