It’s been an eventful start to the year: bushfires, a President impeachment, virus outbreak and falling share markets.
These events unfold with a mix of emotions, varying perspectives and thankfully, often the display of humanity at its best.
At the same time, we often witness much vitriol and vehemence as positions on topics are shared through both traditional and social media. The debates are positioned as oppositional and the people sharing their different perspectives as adversarial, with sides taking a strident and fixed approach.
There’s a lot of talking. Not a lot of listening and little seeking to understand.
This approach isn’t unique to these recent times.
Over the summer holidays I watched the movie ‘Best of Enemies’ which is set in Durham, North Carolina, in 1971 at a time when that city’s schools were still segregated. It shares the story of a civil rights leader, Ann Atwater, and the local Ku Klux Klan leader, C.P. Ellis and their unlikely friendship that eventually arises. To say Ann Atwater and C.P. Ellis don’t like each other is an understatement. However, as they are forced to spend time with each other they start to understand each other, eventually finding common ground. As a result, the nature of their relationship shifts from adversaries to friends.
As with all movies that are based on fact, there are elements that have been fictionalised and ultimately criticised. However, the inherent message is clear: it’s important to listen to people and seek to understand those you don’t agree with.
Today, it often appears we are less willing to listen to others and in particular, listen to opinions we don’t like.
It’s the same in the working world.
When the world is complex and changing, when there is so much we don’t understand and are still to learn, being curious about what is and what could be is critical.
This isn’t easy. It’s much easier to take a fixed position and to make your mind up quickly; however, that doesn’t usually help you (or those around) in the long run.
If in 2020, you are wanting to build deeper relationships and make real change around you happen, then it starts with you being willing to open your heart and mind to hearing and understanding different perspectives.
To help, here’s five critical ingredients to get you started:
1. Find new channels – don’t always go to the same news sources. Find alternate sources of information so you can ensure you are broadly and wisely informed.
2. Listen broadly – listen to people you don’t agree with, read their commentary and ask questions. Seek to understand them and what drives their thought processes. This doesn’t mean you have to accept their ideas, but the more you understand their world view the better chance you’ll have of finding common ground and making progress.
3. Suspend judgement – be interested in the other person’s perspective; even if your immediate reaction is to not agree with them.
4. Be always curious – challenge your own assumptions and expectations. Dig in to why you think the way you do. What’s shaped and influenced how you make decisions? Where do your beliefs come from? And importantly, are they still valid?
5. Get challenged – have friends and connections around you that think differently and encourage them to challenge you. Be willing to engage in spirited conversations, which require you to think deeply about your perspective, and the facts and data you are using to hold onto that position.
Atticus Finch in the literary classic, To Kill a Mockingbird, said to his young daughter, Scout:
“If you just learn a single trick, Scout, you`ll get along a lot better with all kinds of folks. You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view . . . until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.”
That’s very true.
Getting you ready for tomorrow, today®.
Michelle Gibbings is a workplace expert, working with global leaders to build workplaces where leaders and employees thrive and great things happen. She is the Author of ‘Step Up: How to Build Your Influence at Work’, ‘Career Leap: How to Reinvent and Liberate your Career’ and the new book ‘Bad Boss: What to do if you work for one, manage one or are one’.