Roger Patterson an Entrepreneurs' Organization (EO) member in Vancouver, is the founder and CEO of visual marketing platform Later and co-founder of accelerator Launch Academy. Roger actively works against polarization in his workplace by creating middle ground to encourage personal connections. We asked Roger how leaders can embrace diversity of thought in their organizations:
Here's an alarming fact: polarization is on the rise worldwide.
But, like many things you read on the Internet, further investigation is required.
Dig into the research, and you'll find that the number of people with differing political views in America has stayed relatively stable over time--it's our disdain for those holding opposing opinions that has grown. What's more, studies show we assume people who disagree with us on fundamental issues will automatically dislike us more than they actually do.
From vaccine mandates to political and cultural ideologies, there's certainly a lot for the world to disagree about. And with the media--both social and traditional--acting as a platform for warring factions, it can feel like there's no room for middle ground.
For business leaders, navigating the polarized landscape can feel like a lose-lose situation. It's tempting to sidestep the issues--either by glossing over controversial subjects or leaning into the majority group-think at work.
But here's the thing: Ignoring controversial viewpoints in the workplace won't make them go away and can actually backfire. What's more, leaders who don't actively find ways to bridge ideological gaps at work risk squandering one of the most valuable assets any company can have: diversity of thought.
Workplaces: The Unlikely Key To Reconnection
When I started my career, I didn't know how each of my coworkers voted or their thoughts on public policy. If politics came up at all, views were shared over time--a function of getting to know each other as people first and foremost.
Today, it's the opposite.
Thanks to social media, we have public access to the once-private views of our coworkers in a way we never have before. In many cases, even before meeting a coworker, we've seen the comment they left on a Biden meme or their Tweet about the pro-life protests in Texas. Our once tepid water cooler conversations about weekend plans are now tainted by views that may or may not align with our own. And that's not necessarily a bad thing.
In a world where media amplifies controversy and algorithms reinforce our opinions, workplaces are one of the few environments left where people regularly interact with others who see the world differently. That's incredibly valuable, not only for the future of society but for the bottom line, too.
Research has proven "cognitively diverse" teams solve problems faster and are more innovative. Meanwhile, workplaces that are too homogenous in their culture or political point of view can drive valuable employees to leave. And when it comes to attracting the next generation of talent, Gen Z places a diverse work environment at the top of its list--that goes beyond gender, race, identity, or ability to include diversity of experiences and perspectives.
Creating an environment that encourages respectful debate and welcomes differing points of view can be a real challenge in today's climate--though not an insurmountable one.
How To Create Middle Ground
Leaders have long been warned of the downside of departmental silos in decreased creativity and collaboration. Some of the same tactics that encourage cross-pollination among departments can be retooled to encourage understanding on a human level.
For instance, in our company, we actively work against forming cliques by physically moving people around. When we're working in the office, desk-swaps are a regular occurrence, ensuring we get the chance to know our coworkers from a professional and human standpoint.
Preventing people from getting too comfortable in their corners--both physically and mentally--is a meaningful way to work against the tendency to self-segregate along age, gender, ideological, or professional lines. It also helps create a more open-minded environment overall. We apply this to our online work environment as well, with a plug-in that creates random groups of coworkers on Slack where people can connect when working remotely.
The more personal connections are made, the more likely coworkers are to be respectful and understanding when difficult issues arise in conversation.
Part of the polarization problem is that it's easy to manipulate information online to support a point of view--and equally easy to dismiss differing opinions as "misinformation." Making inaccurate assumptions about what the "other side" believes has been found to result in "false polarization"--basically assuming people are farther away in their views from you than they actually are.
The fix? Talking it out--and really listening to what people have to say. Research has shown explaining complex viewpoints--and where they come from--can be a humbling and connective experience that brings people closer together.
When we work to humanize one another at work and build personal relationships based on honesty and trust, we open the door to having more difficult conversations that may just challenge our perspectives and bring more harmony to our lives in and outside of the workplace.