In the past couple of weeks there have been national debates about more sensitive issues in a shorter span of time than I can ever remember.  There are currently very public debates around gun control, climate change, race relations, immigration, healthcare, and taxes.  Toss in three major hurricanes and the threat of a nuclear war and you can see why people are anxious.

Often when there is a national crisis, people rally together to support each other.  This time, the sheer number of issues and the overall polarization of our nation is inhibiting our ability to come together.  How polarized are we?  According to Gallup, support for the president “…from Democrats this year is lower than the opposition party for all presidents in the last half century” (CNN, Tseng).

So how does that impact the workplace?  A lot.  When people’s beliefs are polarized, it’s harder to find a middle ground.  The current debates on race relations, immigration, gun control, and healthcare are profoundly personal.  That makes discussions about these potentially life changing topics highly emotional and social media exacerbates the debate.  When anxieties are high, people are drawn into conflicts more quickly.  Susie’s comment in the lunch room about her wish for tighter gun control, may just touch off a political debate that leaves the team irritated with each other for the remainder of the afternoon.

As leaders, what can we do about influences that start outside of our organizations?  We can start by accepting the fact that some people are going to be more anxious.  To help with that, we can do the following:

  • Encourage our teams to actively listen to understand other points of view. The more we understand why people believe what they do, the more we understand them.
  • Foster an environment where respectful dialogue is the norm.

But my favorite option is to create a common purpose within the team.  Everyone can agree that more blood is needed to help shooting victims, that donating time to a food pantry, or other nonprofit is good for the community.  Frankly, helping others feels good, builds your team, and helps the community.  It’s a great way to build camaraderie and reduce anxiety.  So grab your team and find a cause you can rally around together.  You’ll be glad that you did.

Not sure where to start?  For our Kalamazoo friends, it’s as easy as clicking this link to Volunteer Kalamazoo:    http://volunteerkalamazoo.org/

For our friends in Battle Creek, check out Hands On Battle Creek:  http://www.handsonbc.org/

Let’s get busy finding ways to bring people together by doing something good in our community.

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