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Building Connection in Divided Times

Diversity and inclusion are words we hear a lot – and the lack of them is always evident when tolerance wears thin during election season.

Elections are one way of exercising the gift of freedom we receive as citizens of the US.  I respect all citizens and their right to vote, no matter how their experience, vote and perspective differs from mine. You can imagine my surprise as I crossed the parking lot after voting in our local election and heard a rash of snarky comments from community volunteers and activists. 

Every year it puzzles and frustrates me to experience this type of disrespect for freedom, democracy, civil discourse and the fractured community it creates.

The lack of community is especially sad and evident during a time when we are headed into celebrations of Thanksgiving, the holiday of gratitude.

This holiday is named for that peculiar situation in which the conquerors and the conquered of different races, tribes and agendas were said to peacefully sit together over a meal, and feel grateful.

Much as we’d like to feel grateful when in fractured and risky situations, I often hear from coaching clients that they struggle appreciating and inviting respectful discourse – especially in tougher situations such as disagreeing with a boss or owning a mistake – and when matters are urgent.

It’s exactly in these times when we feel pressured and at risk that we’re most likely to display a range of ill- suited behaviors, from shutting down to seething — to saying or doing something we regret. 

When we review these situations in retrospect, rarely do we see our actions line up with our core values and beliefs. We’re far from our ideal self.

To close the gap on our reactions vs. how we want to display our governing beliefs, values and preferences, it’s necessary to practice a new way of doing things. This often starts with seeing ourselves and others as equally valuable in the bigger scheme of life, and being willing to believe that there’s something to learn from the ‘other.’ 

An intentional effort can eventually create the ability to stay open and curious about differences and encourage healthy dialogue. It’s a slow practice that evolves as we experience the good that comes from holding our unconscious biases and judgement at bay. With patience and practice, we’re able to approach difficult conversations with open hearts and minds, which in turn increases our ability to work together toward positive outcomes.   

“When we’re struggling with someone and it’s someone you’re supposed to hate because of ideology or believe, move in. Get curious. Get closer.  Ask questions. Try to connect. Find something.
Remind yourself of that spiritual belief and inextricable connection – how am I connected to you in a way that is bigger and more primal than our politics?” 
– Brene Brown

Like anything worth getting, this goal takes work. There’s much to learn and inspiration can help.  One such story stands out to me from the Onbeing Project with Krista Tippett. The story covers an unlikely relationship between individuals with radical disagreement.  Through respectful conversations over time, two very oppositional individuals developed a friendship. It was this friendship that undergirded the slow transition of one from a radical and violent ideology to one of greater tolerance. 

 It’s a powerful story that applies to all of us if we say we believe in allowing and supporting a diversity, inclusion and even greater, a democracy

As we look across the divides of age, race, pay, politics, and gender ( or the voter parking lot in my hometown), we need a plan and a commitment if we’re truly going to build a deeper, more understanding connection through conversations.

Here’s to my courageous clients who are inviting and making time for respectful conversations with people of different perspectives. This is a radically different approach to deepening who we are as a country, company and community – and especially important as we approach elections and holidays. 

If making room for tough conversations is something you want to improve on, the Better Conversations Starter Guide is a helpful resource. It can help you plan, commit and invite a differing view into your political, work or family life that might move forward into greater understanding and possibly, friendship.  

I invite you this season and into 2020 to do your part in building capacity for greater connection and community, one risky, caring, conversation at a time. 

If you’re ready to build capacity for differing views and diverse opinions, let’s talk!

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