In our politically correct culture, fraught with polarization, constructive conflict has been all but eliminated. Your ability to conduct constructive conflict depends on three things: your willingness to be vulnerable and propose stupid ideas or ask stupid questions, your courage to give direct and constructive feedback, and your willingness to accept such feedback and criticism yourself, without taking it personally. 

However, due to political correctness enforced in the workplace, meetings tend to stay away from those. "There is no such thing as a stupid idea," is what you hear. Others would rather spare your feelings than provide you with the feedback you really need, and they will also resent and complain about feedback you provide them. I didn't say you would. Others.

As a result, we hold "the meeting before the meeting," "the meeting after the meeting," just not the meeting during the meeting. As we enter a meeting, we suffer from confirmation bias, and entrench in our pre-meeting positions. The growing polarization and divisiveness also forces us to dehumanize others. No doubt, the origin of this is our political polarization. The two major parties drifted apart, to the extreme. And so have we.

Our brain keeps looking for shortcuts, and affiliating people with their political positions is simply so much easier than understanding the subtleties of their unique personalities. 

Did you know that the words Conservative, Liberal, and Progressive are still listed by the two major dictionaries (Oxford and Merriam-Webster) as adjectives and not nouns? However, we use them in sentences as nouns "He is A Conservative. She is A Liberal." We stopped looking at the subtleties of one another. 

Here is a simply trick to fix it, before the meeting starts. When you know you are about to have an adversarial meeting, loaded with emotions, where you expect participants to entrench in their own positions (not necessarily political), ask everyone in the room to answer this question:

What do you think we ALL have in common?

Spend a few minutes until you all find one thing that you share in common. It has to be something that everyone in that meeting has in common. Not just a few. It has to be something significant (not a favorite color...)

Your meeting will become so much more productive after that. Why?

  • When you realize you have something in common with the others--you tend to start listening to them more;
  • It becomes easier for you to allow yourself to be vulnerable with them;
  • You are more likely to be willing to give them feedback, because you feel they are willing to accept it;
  • You are more likely to accept feedback constructively rather than defensively;
  • It will lighten the atmosphere in the room; and--
  • It is almost guaranteed to invoke laughter, and laughter always helps productivity and creativity. 

Now, wasn't that easy?