If I ask you what's missing from the 2016 presidential race, you might say 'common sense.' Others might cite a lack of civility. The missing element that has brought about such tremendous discourse goes deeper than that.
Each candidate has done a remarkable job of alienating parts of the electorate. Many would agree that each candidate has brought the campaign battle to new lows. I realize that if you have a favorite candidate, you might feel a need to defend his or her position. You might feel that the discourse is entirely the other candidate's fault.
I'm not judging the candidates' suitability to the office. Rather, I want to shed light on the single behavior that neither contender has managed to master--to their own detriment: empathy. The lack of this key human feeling is what's really driving people away, rather than drawing them together. The same failing might cause a similar affect in your business and in your relationships.
They Are To Blame
Hillary Clinton called half of Donald Trump's supporters a "basket of deplorables." To her credit, Clinton apologized for her comments. Trump has repeatedly blamed President Obama and Secretary Clinton for trade deals, terrorism, and many other topics. Depending on your viewpoint, you might agree or disagree with such claims.
In each case, the candidates have made out those who feel differently than they do to be evil, calculating "bad people." Each has characterized the other as being unfit, lacking judgment, and a huge mistake for anyone to even consider.
The problem with this approach is that it makes anyone who is leaning toward the other candidate get defensive. When you get defensive, you stop listening.
"Any statement with a moralistic tone will trigger resistance and shut down the recipient, even if your words are technically correct," says Jim Goldstein, a clinical psychologist and author of Powerful Partnerships. Goldstein shares that such statements imply that your position is right or wrong, or suggest that you should or should not do something.
Same Side Communication
If you want someone to see your view of the world, it helps if you show some empathy toward his or her perspective.
For example, Trump suggested that it would be a huge mistake to let any Syrian refugees into this country. He failed to express understanding for those who felt compassion for the refugees.
He might have instead said, "I appreciate that as a compassionate country, we want to help those in need. That means that we need to work swiftly to ensure that we do not allow anyone into the country who might pose an immediate threat to our citizens." He probably would have gotten a more sympathetic reception.
Instead of referencing the "basket of deplorables," Clinton might have gone a different route.
She might have said something like, "I can understand why people who have been struggling might blame people from different countries, or those who have different beliefs from their own. When things go wrong, it is human nature to want to find someone to blame. Blame won't fix the problem. Instead, we need to change our approach."
Neither one of these approaches makes others feel targeted as "wrong." It does not judge them morally. I have seen many social media posts characterizing so-called friends as morons for supporting one candidate over another. Once you call someone an idiot, you are not likely to find them to be a receptive audience for your ideas
Your Employees Or Customers
Naturally, when your employees or customers do something you don't like, it is easy to react with judgment. Instead, take a step backward and first try to appreciate their perspective. When you take the first step to understand them, they might be inclined to be open to your position.
If you have a millennial employee who did not do as you instructed, you might conclude that she doesn't care about doing a good job. If you asked about why she did not perform the task, you might learn that she disagreed with the approach. She might even have a better approach than you had suggested.
So while civility and common sense might be missing from the presidential election, empathy is the missing piece that could improve your business and relationships. The only difference?
It might be a bit late to expect empathy to repair the tone and tenor of this election.