Our task is to free ourselves by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature and its beauty. —Albert Einstein
It’s not hard to notice that we are becoming more and more polarized and engaging in less conversations as we experience more disruption. We are plagued by volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity. No doubt, globalization, technological changes, diversity (including four generations in the workplace), political and environmental developments and the rapid speed of change is creating fear and worry for many.
Neuroscience research is showing that we are reacting to changes and that our emotions of fear and distrust are contagious. The lack of trust and worry pervades communities, workplaces and homes. It is easy to blame others. There is a need for respect and hopefulness. The challenge is that we all perceive respect differently and we need dialogue to understand what people need to feel safe, valued and creative.
There are solutions available. If we adapt an open mindset and have the skills and courage to engage in conversations we can collectively create solutions that will benefit all.
When working with an organization, managers and others can easily focus on what they perceive is wrong with their peers and resort to conflict and resistance. However, when an environment is created for listening, empathy and understanding the team embraces their common goals and are able to work collectively together for a larger vision. I believe that we can each be leaders by noticing our reactions and shifting to being open and looking for creative possibilities. I think of this as creating an oasis-like environment where we are appreciative of what is working and what is possible.
Organizations and individuals generally want many of the same things. However, without real conversations it is easy to assume negative intent of others. Instead, when choosing to assume positive intent and being open to listen, transformation is possible. None of us can see the whole picture or have all the answers. We need each other and we are in this together.
Conservatives want to conserve what is working and good in a system and progressives want to make things work and be effective. There is common ground. However, when people become fundamental and assume that only their way is right, there is little room for understanding and effectiveness. And so much energy is wasted that could have been devoted to bettering the system for all.
You may wonder, “What can I do? I am just one person.” However, we can each contribute to a better workplace, community or family. We can choose to be open to others who may appear to have different perspectives. We can engage in conversations and simple acts of kindness. Take the step of listening and supporting another person today.
For example, we can choose to engage with someone from a different group who may look or seem different. A manager can be open to someone he or she rarely engages with. People with different philosophies can speak with one another about what is working and what is possible. If we each choose to take small steps we will feel less polarized and see more potential. We will feel like we are doing something constructive rather than feeling out of control and helpless. Many of us engaging in open-minded conversations with a commitment for positive action for the benefit of all will make a difference.
This can be a time of opportunity. Notice your emotions, breathe, focus on possibilities. Engage with someone who has a different perspective. Listen and expect new options to emerge.