I was at an interfaith service recently and a Muslim cleric stated the following:
While it feels good to hate what we believe is bad, what is really bad is the hating mind.
I thought a lot about that.
In today’s politics – national, state, and local – we see a lot of effort to demonize or delegitimize the other side and their perspectives – “hate” from the opposition. We see this play out on the national stage daily and that negativity is very corrosive – oftentimes I simply have to turn off the TV.
But when we “hate” (or look down upon, scoff at, disdain, dismiss or ignore) a colleague’s position or idea, we feed this negativity about another’s “bad” idea. It may not be “bad” per se, but we are rejecting it for many various reasons.
I hear about this from my clients with some frequency; that those in opposition to our point of view can have a scorched earth antipathy to differing views. It might not be a visceral disdain for another’s perspective, but more of a dismissive view of their idea and often the other person as well, by association with it.
How do we find ways to overcome this negative and dismissive attitude?
The first thing we need to do is determine if we are working with an “enemy” or somebody we share a goal with.
I realize that few of you would really think of any of your coworkers as an enemy, but their ideas and perspectives may seem to be from time to time because of their opposition to your suggestions.
There are in fact only two ways to ensure that people will come together and cooperate:
- A Common Enemy: people tend to rally together for a common purpose when there is another group, person or idea that is in significant opposition to ours in any way. Wars work this way; it seems like political campaigns do the same. This can be a good way to create solidarity amongst the group, but it’s shelf-life is limited. It’s hard to maintain the perception of an enemy unless they continue to do consistently negative things. If that happens, you must disengage.
- A Superordinate Goal: a mission or vision that draws everybody to align towards it with all their energy and force.
Unfortunately, we have been confronted with several significant natural disasters recently. When you think of the tireless and heroic efforts on the part of rescue and relief workers for the victims of these storms, is there a common enemy?
You can’t change the course of a hurricane or confront it directly, so I would say no. But there is a superordinate goal, which is the safety and survival of the victims.
We have seen many, many selfless and courageous acts that support the humanitarian goals of these relief efforts. People rally around the goal.
In your world here are four key things you might be able to do to ensure that others do not think you “hate” them or their ideas:
- When presented with a new or different concept, coach yourself to suspend judgment about this specific issue until you have learned more about it. If you immediately jump to a negative conclusion, chances are the other person will pick up on your vibe very quickly. Coach yourself to keep an open mind.
- Ask questions about their perspective or suggestions, but ensure that this is not an interrogation but rather a very interested inquiry.
- Watch your body language and try to avoid signs that you are resistant to the other’s ideas or perspectives.
- Maintain eye contact but don’t glare;
- Moving closer to the speaker, even if you are seated, shows a real interest in what they are saying. Sitting back, crossing your arms across your chest or being distracted conveys the opposite. Lean in.
- Consider your vocal response. Does your response sound judgmental in any manner? If you respond too quickly they may believe you were just trying to determine your response rather than listening. Moderate the pace of your voice to demonstrate your interest in what they have to say.
- “Seek first to understand and then to be understood.” – Stephen Covey. A great way to approach any issue.
I doubt there are many people who get up in the morning eager to wreak havoc in a meeting just to trash someone else’s ideas. Ask yourself:
- Are you able to manage your emotional reaction to opposing / different views so that you do not inadvertently take a discussion on unproductive tangents?
- Can you manage your body language, the words you choose and your vocal inflections to ensure that a discussion does not become adversarial?
- Can you reflect upon some instances of a superordinate goal that you willingly rallied around and identify what made that a positive experience?
I look forward to your thoughts and comments.