Getting to Know the “Other”

welcome on bulletin board

I often comment in the middle of posts that I write about what I think my wife, Sarah, will say to me when she edits the post.  I can do this rather accurately because I know my wife better than anyone else on the planet.  Likewise, she knows me better than anyone else.  This intimacy takes time, and intentionality, to develop.  The best marriages are a continual journey of “other-centered discovery,” for my wife and I know each other much better today than we did the day we said “I do.”

I make mention because I have noticed an alarming trend in our modern society.  As we continue to divide into left, right, religious, non-religious, etc., we are more able to shut out all inputs from the “other” side than ever before in human-history.  Don’t like the opposing view on your twitter or Facebook feed?  Unfollow, hide, or silence.  Want more of your tribe’s viewpoint?  Follow, read, and listen.

While there are several reasons this phenomenon continues to gain momentum, I think one of the main reasons is that people want to feel part of something.  They want to be “in.” They want to be liked.

The obvious application to the workplace is that we, leaders, need to create an environment where everybody feels “in.” We need to set the tone, cast the vision, and explain why it all matters.  Most importantly, we have to continually remind people that they matter and that the work they do is critical to others.

We also need people on our team that are able to ask the question “what is the other person thinking?” and mean it.  “Meaning it” means that they probe, non-judgmentally, to understand the other’s viewpoint:  What does the business look like from their vantage point?  How do my actions make their job harder? Or, do they make it easier?  Do I know anything about their family, or what they do outside work?  Are there any circumstances in their life that could be making work more difficult?

This kind of work takes intentionality, but it is worth it.  Understanding the “other’s” circumstances, and point-of-view, brings one closer to the other person.  This doesn’t mean that everyone agrees on difficult subject matters.  It just means that opposition remains civil, and conflict remains productive.  Rather than disputes morphing from “you’re wrong” to “you’re evil,” or even “you’re un-American,” they stay respectful.

Above all, this kind of culture has to be modeled at the top by the leaders of the organization.  We have to be accepting.  We have to be listening.  We have to be on a never-ending “others-centered discovery.”