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“What responsibility do businesses have in depolarizing conversations?”…

“What responsibility do businesses have in depolarizing conversations?”…

…was the question directed to me and my fellow panelists during the Greater Milwaukee Committee membership meeting on January 11, 2021. My answer, “None.” And then, I echoed the thougths that Peggy Troy, CEO Children’s Wisconsin had contributed, “It’s an incredible opportunity.”  Allow me to explain.

As leaders your job is to run a company and I’m guessing there aren’t many out there who have a job description with a bullet point expectation that reads “depolarize conversations”.  As leaders, you’re always on the lookout for that next thing…that cutting-edge new product or solution…that thing that will help you be a more effective leader…that thing that will increase sales by double digits…that thing that will maximize productivity…that thing that will add a couple of points to the bottom line…that thing that will attract the best and brightest people in your field AND keep them.  I’m here to suggest that “depolarizing conversations” is THAT THING.

I know, it seems insurmountable given the breadth and depth of life that has occured in the past 11 months beginning with COVID.  A story…about 18 years ago, Joe surprised me with a trip to Paris to attend a week of cooking classes at the Cordon Bleu.  Suffering from jet-lag, we took a late night walk and happend upon a couple arguing very loudly outside of a residential building. While we couldn’t understand what they were saying, we could tell that it was a very heated debate.  I said “Whoa, it looks like he’s in a mountain of trouble!”  To which Joe responded, “Nah! As long as she’s still talking to him, he’s got a fighting chance.”  Well folks, I don’t need to be the one to tell you that there aren’t many of us reaching across the political chasm to talk to each other anymore…

We spend more time working than we spend doing any other single thing, except maybe sleeping.  By default then, you have the greatest access to the masses.  And those masses are suffering…financially, mentally and emotionally.  It’s too early for a study exploring the emotional impact of the events last week in our nation’s Capitol, but there are plently of them out there about the state of our mental and emotional well-being prior.  We’ve come to a point in time where it would be short-sighted to think that the masses aren’t carrying the weight of the nation’s current events over the past year into work with them.  If that elephant in the room isn’t impacting your businesses, it’s coming.  And how do we eat an elephant…one bite at at time.

Aspiring to create a safe environment where your folks feel seen, heard and like they matter, in my humble opinion is THAT THING.  There are national organizations doing great work in this arena.  Last Saturday I participated in “Depolarizing Within” hosted by Braver Angels, “which brings together Red and Blue Americans in a working alliance to depolarize America”.  You might also look to The Dialogue Project, “A global study of how business can improve civil discourse and reduce polarization in our society.” And locally, I focus tweaking cultures to insure safe and transparent enviroments.

I’ll end by invoking one of my husband’s famous challenges…”But, what if we could?”

P.S. Approximately 2 hours after I posted this, I received an email from Braver Angels accepting my application to become a “Moderator”.  I’m incredibly exicted to join this effort and am so grateful for the opportunity.

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  1. Well articulated Jennifer!
    As leaders, are primary function is to create effective, sustainable & safe cultures within our organizations. Great cultures always put people first. Meaning, that your hierarchy of company values must start with your specific commitments.

    Especially those that work towards ensuring that all of the relationships tethered within your structure, are based upon growing & nurturing much better conversations.

    The goal of upgrading the stories we tell each other, is certainly needed & necessary for our own critical business & human evolutionary paths. Businesses simply cannot & should not, try to exist in a social vacuum.

    The business community plays an integral role in building and supporting a new & improved paradigm for all of society… We are all key players in elevating the dignity & connection so vital in our workplaces.

    As they say, “the best futures are the one’s we choose to create”.

  2. Jennifer – You were a great addition to the GMC’s panel last month. I agree – we ALL have the responsibility to defuse tensions and model uplifting, positive behavior for those around us. In the workplace, employees look to leaders for examples of how to behave and respond. Our role is to champion the right reactions and to demonstrate how we want and need those around us to behave. Thanks again for inspiring (and reminding) us that ours is an important job when it comes to lowering the temperature and fostering positivity.

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