While there will most certainly be a political victory in the United States presidential election, there will not be a moral victory. The vote counting results coming in so far from my home country as I write these words for you on the Thursday morning after election day, clearly reflect a nation strongly and deeply divided.
On Wednesday evening during the TodayFM “Last Word with Matt Cooper” radio broadcast, I shared my own family story of political division. My mother became a widow at just 34 years of age when my private pilot dad was killed in a crash. His plane struck trees near the runway as he was coming in for a landing at the airport on a foggy December evening near our hometown of Farmland, Indiana. I was 11 and my sister was only eight. My mother found the strength to go on through her evangelical Christian faith. She went back to university and got her master’s degree. Her work put my sister and me through college. To this day, we admire her determination and her grit, but we are sharply divided when it comes to politics.
Mom’s (since I’m American, it’s not Mum or Mammy) political leanings are conservative. She describes herself as a single-issue voter, consistently marking her ballot box for the pro-life candidates. My sister and I are squarely on the pro-choice and progressive side.
This election season, our differing views ignited into heated arguments. My sister and I laid out what we believed was a clear case against voting for Donald Trump. But our mom refused to capitulate. Observing the stalemate, and since I happen to live thousands of miles away, I told her I wouldn’t let the president come between us. “He’s not worth it,” I reasoned.
But my sister, who only lives a couple of hours away from Mom in the neighbouring state of Ohio and normally makes regular trips to see her, was furious. Using the pandemic as a reason not to travel, she confided to me she would not visit our mother again, “for the foreseeable future.”
They haven’t spoken in weeks. I’m disheartened by this on my family level and now as I examine the entrenched split among individuals collectively represented by the red and blue electoral map of the United States, it’s hard to imagine how to bridge the divide.
For these reasons, the focus of today’s column is on handling division. It’s never easy, and while most of us are remote working and not physically interacting inside an office, dysfunction in the form of differing points of view, disagreement or impenetrable cliques is even more difficult to tackle.
Here are some thoughts.
1) Pay attention to your awareness
My mother’s life experience combined with the choices she has made in reaction to them has moulded her in a particular way. Same with myself, my sister and you. Each of us bring with us to our various places of employment our unique memories, experiences, perspectives, and communication styles.
To understand that other people may not see the world, the project or the business proposal from the same perspective as you, requires effort and diligence. It is easy to slip into complacency and stop striving to understand others.
2) Ask more questions
“When you assume, you make an ass out of me,” the old saying goes. It’s true. Stop assuming the other person you’re working with shares your approach, goals or objectives. Pause regularly and ask open-ended questions. Cultivate genuine curiosity and interest in their views.
One of my coaching clients who is German and manages several teams for an American-run multi-national is a great example of vigilance in this area. As a second-language English speaker, she asked me to help her build her vocabulary in a variety of areas so she could better connect with her employees.
“I want to learn a range of conversational English questions and phrases that you as a native English speaker may already know but I, as a German speaker, may not be delivering.”
“Ah, you mean like a variety of ways to celebrate people? Ask how they’re doing? Or provide support?”
“Yes, exactly,” came her reply.
I had never thought about this before and our conversation about conversations reminded me how essential it is to imagine the pictures in the other person’s head. No matter what language you’re speaking, questions will help you to understand another. Reach out. Ask.
“What are you hoping to have by the end of this meeting you don’t have now?”
“How are you feeling about this?”
“How are my ideas?”
3) Examine your own behaviour
Speaking of questions, ask yourself this important one: “What am I possibly doing or not doing that can be modified to help the situation?” Take responsibility for what you should add – or discard.
While there are those who thrive on disruption and drama and may even intentionally create it, most of us desire to live – and work – in harmony. I am confident that my mother and my sister will eventually reunite, not in political agreement, but in the appreciation of the many other things that bond them together.
Write to Gina in care of SundayBusiness@independent.ie
With corporate clients in five continents, Gina London is a premier communications strategy, structure and delivery expert. She is also a media analyst, author, speaker and former CNN anchor. @TheGinaLondon