The Common Enemy (We Are Stronger Together)

I stumbled across an article written a few years ago about politics in our country in which the authors, Jonathan Haidt and Sam Abrams walked the reader through what he believed was the Top 10 Reasons American Politics Are Broken. While the article was written two years ago, it certainly is relevant today and perhaps even more so.

I am not a political analyst so this post isn’t a political one, although I will admit my opinions in that arena may slip out between the lines. But really, my intent for this post is to highlight the similarities between what the article communicates and what I find in the workplace.

The article offers that the parties purified themselves and, in doing so, created two distinct camps. Notwithstanding the incredible irony of that word given the corruption in both camps, I am drawn to the similarities of things that often occur in the workplace. For over twenty years, I have mediated discussions between polarized employees and I know this: when they are so set on their own interests, their own ideologies and often their loyalties to others in the camp, they rarely, if ever, are able to find compromises. I work tirelessly to help the find common goals, common interests, etc. so they can begin to appreciate the others’ perspective. Failure to find the common objectives and the similar values leads to, well, more problems and subsequent failure.

The article speaks to the correlation of the division of parties and the increase or decrease of immigration in our country, suggesting that the greater degree of immigration equates to the stronger divide of parties and their communities. I’ve noticed that the more a workplace is diverse in color, education, language, religion, etc., the more uncomfortable the once “majority” becomes. Instead of welcoming the breadth of perspective and experience, these individuals often demonstrate territorial and paranoid behavior, presumably because they feel threatened or, sadly, supreme. I am usually called in to react to problems such as these in the workplace and unfortunately, it’s a bit too late as the door/mind has already been shut. On the other hand, when I am asked to help prepare the workforce for diversity and inclusion, I find we are better able to keep the door/mind open for a healthy two way exchange.

The article speaks quite a bit about the change in media practices and how this affects the growing divide among political communities. It references the good old days, when news was news, meaning it was factual and objective reporting. But then…

“Now Americans can choose from hundreds of partisan news sources, many of which care more about arousing emotions than hewing to journalistic standards. This proliferation of sources interacts with the most notorious problem in human cognition: the confirmation bias. People rarely seek out evidence on both sides before making a decision on moral and political matters. Rather, they begin with their initial belief and then seek out evidence to confirm it.”

As much as I want to dip into why I think we are to blame for the evolution of news to entertainment, I will refrain and, instead, show how this type of thing has also bled over into the workplace. I take part in monthly town hall-ish meetings with the entire workforce. Leadership shares what is going on with the company with as much transparency as it can and invites as much Q/A as is needed for the workforce to feel “in the know.” I see those who tune out during these exchanges are the same ones who, within minutes and throughout the rest of the month, instead poke and prod others for “more interesting news” (aka gossip or speculation). I see it with my clients too; there is always a group who cares more about the drama than the reality. I am often at a loss with what to do in these situations as I know I can’t force a change in what these individuals find “interesting” and worthy of repeating. I can suggest they focus on their work and I can even suggest that a failure to do so will result in discipline but alas, this only serves to spur on their need for more drama.

The article talks about how the two political parties were “closer” when they had a common enemy but when the common enemy disappeared, the divide began to grow again. In the workplace, this “common enemy” thing is prevalent. As the mediator for countless dysfunctional teams and work groups, I often find that two employees who hated each other for years will somehow begin to get along if their supervisor becomes the antagonist for both. I’ve seen many employees who failed to get along until an outsiders comes along, and then demeaning or bullying the outsiders became the new sport that connects the previous group. I have always been fascinated and perplexed by this behavior and I have found it difficult to maneuver out of it. It’s a losing situation, of course, as it’s asinine to create an enemy for a group simply to bring them together. Instead, I spend hours trying to back them up to a time before their animosity took over and even when I can get them there, they still have to forgive the offenses that took place since that time. Sometimes we can get there, but often, we don’t.

In summary, I found the article fascinating in that the stated reasons causing the dysfunction in our political system are some of the same reasons dysfunction occurs in the workplace.

I don’t have any mind blowing solutions other than the one that is obvious:

Leadership needs to step up.

Anyone can be in charge – whether he/she is in charge of a business, government or community. But it takes a special person to be a sound, just and positive leader.

  • Such a leader realizes that a community divided is always vulnerable.
  • Such leader realizes that a community divided is easily manipulated.
  • Such a leader realizes that a community divided is a community at half of its potential.
  • Such a leader knows that we are stronger together and assumes the responsibility for uniting us.

How, you might ask, can such a leader demonstrate this responsibility?

  • By mediating, an objective leader can encourage communication, awareness and hopefully acceptance of differences.
  • Through managing, a effective leader can identify who and what is promoting or challenging a positive culture and engagement, and offer rewards or sanctions accordingly.
  • By serving, a confident leader demonstrates humility, compassion and acceptance and, in turn, can inspire and encourage others to do the same.
  • Through mentoring and coaching, a supportive leader can build the resilience, confidence and logical reasoning of others.
  • With communicating openly and honestly, a sincere leader can empower others.
  • Via modeling, a moral leader can set the example for objectivity, forgiveness, determination and fairness.

Are you such a leader? Please step up, speak up or perhaps even buckle up.

The workplace, and indeed the entire community, needs you.

We are stronger together.