There are few topics that are as divisive and polarizing as politics. These days, it seems you can't express an opinion without being bombarded with criticism and contempt from the opposing side, no matter what side of the political aisle you stand on. Everyone, it seems, has "lost their minds" when it comes to their political position -- and that can have a drastically negative effect on business.
When you are the leader of a team or company comprised of stakeholders with varying personalities and opinions, holding firm to a position without considering the viewpoints of others can lead to poor employee morale, lagging innovation and damaged relationships with customers, among other things. Having a reputation for being intolerant or inflexible is never good for business.
"I do think this kind of homogenous mindset...is a really dangerous thing for any company," says researcher and political polling expert Tom Webster. "You need the input."
Tom is the vice president of strategy marketing for Edison Research, a company that has conducted exiting polling for some of the most controversial U.S. presidential elections in recent history. Tom believes bias is among the greatest scourges in business.
"Bias I think is one of the great dangers of Corporate America," he says. "We don't have all of the voices present in the room that we think we need to have, or that we ought to have, in order to develop (effective) products or marketing."
So how can we make room for a diversity of viewpoints in the boardroom without feeling like we have to water down our own? The answer is much simpler than you may think.
Step out of your comfort zone
You can't be exposed to differing viewpoints if you only surround yourself with people who think and feel like you. Sure, it's reassuring and comfortable when your own perspectives are reinforced, maybe even lauded, over time. That might feel good to our egos, but it's not so good for employees or customers who may see things differently.
Whenever possible, it's a good idea to step out of your comfort zone and solicit feedback from people who disagree with you. It doesn't mean you have to agree with what they say, but it can help you to understand their position better -- and may lead to new insights in your marketing, product development or sales.
It's human nature to want to defend your position when it's being challenged. But try to resist this. Instead, listen. Your goal should not be to "win an argument." Rather, you should focus on understanding the opposing perspective in an effort to find the best conclusion for everyone involved.
Whenever you find yourself in a disagreement or have the urge to interject with your viewpoint, take a deep breath and pause. Active listening can help you gather new information, clarify any misconceptions and build more trust with the other party because, after all, who doesn't appreciate someone who really listens?
Change the channel
There are always two sides of an issue, and you can't be an effective leader without looking at both sides. But when you are surrounded by those who constantly reaffirm your view of a given situation, you can easily be swept up by the illusion that everyone thinks like you do. That's especially true if you consume news that is one-sided. So it would do you good to change up your news consumption from time to time.
If you're partial to a particular television news show, it might be wise for you to change the channel; seek out programs with divergent viewpoints. Same goes for radio, newspapers, magazines, or websites. Seek out news from sources where they routinely have views different from your own.
One word of caution, speaking from personal experience. If you start screaming at the screen because their views differ from your own, you've missed the point of the exercise.
It's comfortable to hold our opinions close to us, and natural to want to push away those that challenge our own thinking. But it's important to step outside of our comfort zone and interact with a more diverse crowd once in a while.
Sure, it might feel awkward at first, but taking these small steps will give you understanding and might just make for a better environment in your home, office, or even your nightly hangout.