Crucial Conversations QA

Change Begins With Me: Reflections on the 2016 Election

This has been the most disturbing and divisive election cycle either of us can remember. We began writing this piece by assembling a list of sound bites that ought to be consigned to a political “Hall of Shame.” But as we did so, we began to realize we’ve made our own contributions to that hall as well.

Now, don’t get us wrong. We haven’t engaged in hate speech or called for the imprisonment of a candidate. But as we started throwing rocks at others’ behavior, we realized some of ours was not beyond reproach either. As we all reflect on the past year, there’s a hierarchy of culprits we can look to:

1. The candidates. Need we say more? And beyond Trump and Clinton, many of the primary and presidential contenders have lowered the bar on political discourse and election strategy.
2. The media. The media has brought in paid partisans who do little more than recite their campaign’s talking points. News outlets claim to give us “balance” when what we really want is objective analysis by unbiased reporters, producers, and news anchors. After all, the media is often touted as the fourth estate with the responsibility to hold the government to account, and from our perspective, the media has not acted any more responsibly than the before-mentioned politicians.
3. The alternative media. The Internet is festooned with fiction dressed up as fact. And most of its users have become witless distribution tools rather than cautious examiners of what it offers—causing us to “feel” informed rather than “be” informed.
4. Friends (or former friends) and colleagues. We published a study a few months ago that revealed how terrified many of us have felt to venture into political discussions – and rightly so. Over thirty-three percent of us have had a political discussion blow up in our face—causing us to lose a relationship—or worse. We can all point to others who have behaved badly as they’ve attempted to assert their views or influence the views of others.
5. Me. Our emotions turned from righteous indignation to humble reflection as we asked, “How have we contributed to the decline?” If our motive in reviewing the past is to assign blame, we could certainly start with number one on this list and move down in that order. But if we really want to influence change, we should probably reverse the order and start with ME.
With this sobering insight in mind, here are our top six political regrets from 2016 and resolutions for the future.

• Regret 1: We have allowed profound disagreement to turn into personal judgments.
• Regret 2: We have cowered from opportunities to share our honest views on issues of deep moral importance to us for fear of being punished by an angry virtual mob—or worse.
• Regret 3: We have spent enormous time commiserating with those who shared our views and precious little exercising genuine curiosity to learn from those who don’t share our views.
• Regret 4: We have been passively vulnerable to the tyranny of search engines—investing time in information that is manipulated by algorithms designed to reinforce our biases. Search engines today are a powerful force for reinforcing ideological divisions as they sense what you prefer to read and serve up more of the same.
• Regret 5: We have contributed to contention by chuckling and—gulp—“liking” postings that were insulting but clever, if they advanced our agenda.
• Regret 6: We complained about the final candidates but did precious little early enough in the process to produce a better slate of choices.
These are hard pills to swallow. But if we’re truly honest with ourselves, we let ourselves down. Thankfully, we woke up this morning knowing we can do better. We don’t have to experience this type of divisive and toxic election again, and we won’t—at the very least, we won’t be participants in one. In the future we promise:

1. To not turn vehement disagreement into personal attack.
2. To periodically seek out reasonable advocates of opposing views—and listen deeply to them.
3. To never outsource our political opinions to search engines.
4. To get involved in the political process earlier rather than complain later about weak candidate options.
5. To never again forward or “like” hatefully clever but intellectually vapid material even about candidates or positions we oppose.
6. To continue to engage in the political discussion—and do so in the way we hope others do with us—even if we are unhappy with the results of yesterday’s election.

How about you? Got any regrets? How have you behaved in ways that you are not proud of? What resolutions are you willing to make to help prevent the disgrace of this last election? Please share your thoughts in the comments section below.

We believe in the goodness of our readers and would like to rally around what can be possible, rather than what just happened. Let’s vow to make it different the next time around.

Best Wishes,
Joseph & David

Crucial Conversations QA

Health Challenges at Work—How to Create A New Normal

Dear Crucial Skills,

I was just diagnosed with a non-contagious medical condition. Now I know why I have been so fatigued these past months. Though my condition can be life-threatening, after having a pity party, I’ve decided to move forward and be as positive as I can. I told my supervisor and co-workers about my diagnosis but now feel they are avoiding me and showing me pity. Some people are not giving me the work they used to give me, and others have actually taken work away from me. It may be they are trying to “ease the burden,” but I just want to move forward, be busy, and continue to be a productive member of the team. I’m second-guessing my decision to come forward with my condition and the added stress actually aggravates my condition. It’s a vicious cycle! Any help would be appreciated.

Signed,
Moving Forward

Dear Moving Forward,

I am sorry to hear about the diagnosis. It sounds like you have gone through some overwhelming emotions as you’ve adjusted to this new reality. It also sounds like you have arrived at a remarkable place in determining to embrace life on these new terms. Congratulations on that. I admire your resilience and trust you’ll find strength in this decision.

I would not fault you for sharing the news with close colleagues. To me, life is about connection—and withholding such profound information from friends can only serve to make you less connected at a time when you need friends most. The challenge now is to negotiate the new relationship this information is provoking. That’s the conversation you need to have. I offer three thoughts that I hope are of use:

1. Let them process their feelings. Like you, your colleagues are going through a process of adapting to the new information about you. Clearly, you deserve much more consideration than they do under the circumstances. However, it’s helpful to know that they are being affected, and it will take time for them to integrate this reality and connect with you in a way that accommodates it. I don’t offer any of this to suggest that it is your job to service their emotional needs—you’ve got plenty to manage on your own. But perhaps being aware that their current behavior is not likely to be their final behavior can help you be patient as they go through their own fear, sadness, and anxiety.

2. Make it discussable. Many of your colleagues are dealing in the realm of mystery at this point. All they know is you have a medical condition. That’s all. They don’t know how it is affecting you physically, emotionally, or interpersonally. Should they lighten your load or treat you the same? Should they give you space or smother you with support? Should they pretend they don’t know about the diagnosis or inquire for details? In most situations like this, those around you are paralyzed with uncertainty. They feel awkward and incompetent and tend to respond to this anxiety with hand-wringing. They try to guess what you want or need—or shrink back to a safe distance to avoid their own discomfort. You have it in your power to end all of that. All you need to do is make the situation discussable. Find a medium that works for you: email, a private blog, perhaps even a team meeting. Take a few minutes to catch people up not just about the physiology of what’s going on with you, but the psychology. Tell them how you’re feeling. Tell them how that varies by day or week.

Then . . .

3. Teach them what works for you. Here’s the best part of my advice for you—you have enormous influence at this very moment. What your colleagues crave most is certainty. They simply want to know how to show up for you. They’ll likely respond to most any request you make. Tell them what questions you’d like or not like. Tell them how you’d like to be treated and not treated. Tell them how you would and wouldn’t like to communicate with them about future changes in your health. For example, will you tire of repeating the same update to everyone? If so, you might want to create a private blog and encourage people who are interested to get information from there so you don’t have to rehash the same story forty-three times at work. Or, you may ask a trusted friend to be the source of information for the group. Whatever works for you is likely to work for them. It’s up to you to teach them.

I wish you health and happiness in this coming phase. May your troubles be eclipsed by increased focus on what matters most and greater intimacy with friends and loved ones.

Warmly,
Joseph