My company tagline is, “Communication for a Connected World”, and I firmly believe that it is only by communicating effectively that we can solve problems and work together.
The events with the U.S. election show how deep the divide can be when we are stuck in an echo chamber and do not heed the cries of people who are different from us and who are suffering, and how easy it is for the wingnuts on both sides to hijack the process and the relationships.
I normally don’t post political stuff in this space because I generally focus on professional topics here. However, what is happening in the U.S. is directly relevant to other conversations about multicultural communication, and the techniques we use to manage virtual, multicultural teams are also useful here. Make no mistake; this rift is a cultural one as well as a communication one.
Here are some practical things we can do to help get the conversation started and to protect the vulnerable members of our communities.
Listen with an Open Mind
Many people surveyed said that they didn’t know anyone who was voting for the opponent of their preferred candidate. This is how bias and entrenchment grow, and it is deadly to solving problems.
- Read articles written by the opposition. Try to look past the ugliness and vitriol to the core issues.
- Seek out people who think differently from you, and ask them to explain their point of view. Listen to what they say without interjecting judgments.
- Ask lots of questions to better understand the goals and dreams of those around you.
- Make a list of the issues that you have identified where you can find common ground.
- Focus on goals and objectives, not positions.
Just because it’s on the Internet, doesn’t make it true (even if we want it to be so). The proliferation of fake news sites is disturbing, particularly with how easy it is to share it on social media. We need to be wary of confirmation bias, propaganda, and social engineering.
As professional communicators, we have a responsibility to stop the spread by making sure anything we share is fact-based, accurate, and well-researched. We need to actively debunk misinformation when we see or hear it.
Stand Up and Speak Out
North America is a land of immigrants, and has always been glorious melting pot of cultural and linguistic diversity. The first languages spoken on this continent were Native American/First Nations languages. Norse, Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, Hebrew were spoken here long before English was. Approximately 11% of the US population and approximately 40% of Canadians are non-native English speakers.
Yet, the Southern Poverty Law Center reported 867 incidents of hate crimes and harassment in the week after the US election. This ugliness erodes the safety of our communities and harms all of us, not just the people being targeted.
When we see such harassment, we have a duty to speak up and to stand up for those being targeted. This is not what America is all about. For some helpful instructions on how to stop bullying, check out this anti-harassment infographic.
In an era of demonization of the opposition and when it feels like blind partisanship on both sides has hijacked the conversation, it can be challenging to hold the middle and refuse to take the bait. We must remember that compromise is not a dirty word, and that it is only by coming to agreement and working together that we succeed as a society. We must remember that disagreement and civil discourse are important to a healthy democracy.
We must find common ground and reach out to people who think differently than we do about the important issues of the day. By keeping in mind the larger ideals of truth, equity, justice, and compassion, and by communicating respectfully with each other, we can continue to move forward and make the world a better place.
Here’s a list of articles and other resources that you might find helpful for continuing the conversation.
- Scott Berkun, sanity guide post-election
- Chris Brogan, on positive actions you can take
- Finland, anti-bullying efforts
- Larry Kunz, on leadership when the world changes
- Evan McMullin, on resisting authoritarianism and propaganda
- Peter Morville, on the divergence of stories we hear and assimilate and how it’s contributing to the divide
- Trevor Noah, on the importance of finding common ground
- Pam Slim, on doing the work even when you don’t feel like it