In 2010, the online polling firm YouGov took a survey and found that 49 percent of those who identified themselves as Republicans, and 33 percent of those who identified themselves as Democrats expressed concern about their child marrying someone of a different political party. The firm asked the same question in 2008. Only 27 percent of Republicans and 20 percent of Democrats said they would be upset if their son or daughter married a member of the opposite party. In 1960, a similar question was asked in another organization’s survey. Back then, only 5 percent of Republicans and 4 percent of Democrats said it bothered them if their son or daughter married someone of a different political party. Do you see a trend here?
In his 2009 book, “The Big Sort: Why the Clustering of Like-Minded America is Tearing Us Apart,” author Bill Bishop pointed out that counties are becoming more alike in terms of their residents’ values, opinions and beliefs. In other words, they are sorting ourselves out based on ideology. His thesis seems to be playing out as politics seems to be the primary cause of America’s segregating itself by political beliefs.
In an October 2015 survey by the Pew Research Center over 55 percent of respondents said that “ordinary Americans” would do better than elected officials in solving America’s problems. So how would ordinary Americans do? Respondents in an August 2015 survey by the same organization said that the political wisdom of the American public is declining. Specifically, only 36 percent of those who identified themselves as leaning Republican said that they had a very good or a great deal of confidence in the American people. That’s down from 61 percent in 1997. Among those leaning Democrat, the percentage went from 61 percent to 37 percent. Among those who identified themselves as having no partisan lean, the percentage went from 58 percent to 23 percent. Let me get this straight: Most people say that ordinary American could do better than the politicians, but that the confidence level in ordinary American is only around 35 percent.
So what can leaders do to reverse this trend?
First, they must desire to stop this trend. From all accounts, that is going to be the most difficult part. After all, many, if not most, politicians seem to believe that their beliefs are the only correct beliefs. And if a person believes that theirs is the only correct belief, and therefore that the other person is wrong, then they have no reason to listen to them. Political leaders must take a break – declare a truce, if you will – from the current divisiveness and form relationships with each other.
Second, they must listen to why the other person feels or believes the way that they do. Good listening is a skill. Good listening is not merely hearing what the other person says while at the same time forming a response. Good listening begins with listening to understand why the other person feels the way that they feel. As has been said, two monologues do not make a dialogue.
Third, they can have a meal with the other person. This may sound unusual, but this writer has seen this to be one of the most effective means to reach common ground. For example, in many places in Mississippi it is not uncommon for local leaders to be far apart on a few issues. After they agreed to have a regular monthly meal with each other they began to see each other as fellow persons, not adversaries. They talked about their families, sports and other things they had in common. Once they reached a point where they really respected each other there was a feeling of trust. After they knew they could respect and trust each other they began solving their issues.
Although the above has been mostly about the political world, the same principles hold true for all of us, whether in business, social or personal areas. The key to solving problems is to begin with seeking common ground is to form relationships. Relationships matter.
» Phil Hardwick is a regular Mississippi Business Journal columnist and owner of Hardwick & Associates, LLC, which provides strategic planning facilitation and leadership training services. His email is phil@philhardwick. com and he’s on the web at www.philhardwick.com.