We live in a world where everything seems to be “either/or.” It’s “Us vs. Them” “For or Against.” “My way or the highway.” Polarized communication is destroying us.
Fragmentation and confrontation occurs in every aspect of our lives and it only seems to get worse. We stare at each other across social, political, ideological and economic chasms that seem to widen every day.
In business, we see these functional divides every day. HR vs. Accounting. PR vs Legal. Manufacturing vs. Finance. What helps us cross that abyss is our ability to get listen first. We have to stop focusing on showing that we are right, but rather to seek understanding and common purpose. Good communication brings out the shades of gray from the polarized black and white thinking.
Gray is an endangered color. It isn’t sexy or bright. It doesn’t tap the same emotional chord. Quite simply, gray is a boring workhorse, quietly existing among its flashy partners. But don’t be deceived by its humbleness. Gray has tremendous power to bring things together and unite the space between black and white, for dialogue, compromise, and understanding. Gray thinking is the epitome of “both/and”.
Psychologists talk about the Confirmation Bias. We tend to seek out information and ideas that align most closely with our pre-existing views of the world. It’s a survival instinct. We tend to want to eliminate that which is different from us – the aspects (even people) that frighten us, threaten us or irritate us. As humans we have a fundamental need to avoid pain, and that which we believe is negative.
The negative exists everywhere. You don’t have to look very far. So what solutions and ideas can we derive from the negative?
- Start with our audiences and not just our supporters. We have to expand the circle to draw more people in – even those who actively oppose us. Listen first. We have to try to understand where others are coming from. What are the experiences that have shaped their point of view and actions.
- Find common ground. We all want the best for our children, to be safe, to feel like we belong. Let’s start with what we share rather than what divides us.
- Keep trying. Sometimes dialogue can change minds. It doesn’t happen over night. Sometimes the divides are too great and cannot be bridged. But we must keep at it.
There are some targets we will never reach and we certainly won’t reach them by constantly hitting them over the head with strident black-and-white messages. But as our perspectives become more finely honed, we can move towards commonality, towards the gray. It may not be where the heat initially lives. But gray is smoldering. And it’s where the potential for our biggest impact may yet live.