I Will Not Try to Convince You of Your Wrong-Headedness

Posted by on April 9, 2012 in business, Choices | 14 comments

It’s an election year. And an apocalypse year. I’m beginning to think the two may be related. Perhaps our collective anger will cause the world as we know it to implode or something.

Each day, I check into Facebook a few times, eager to see what my friends are doing, look at photos of people having fun, check out links to interesting articles, see who is playing Words with Friends, and all the other happy stuff that Facebook puts in front of me so that I don’t have to deal with the tension of working for 15 minutes.

What I see instead are acrimonious debates about abortion, Trayvon Martin, the Affordable Health Care Act, women’s rights, religion, corrupt local governments, and on and on. Don’t get me wrong: I think healthy debate is a good thing. But what I’m seeing far too often cannot be described in any way as healthy. There is name calling, shouting of accusations, emotional ranting…it’s worse than when I taught middle school. At least there, the arguments were over things like who should get a cookie. When a discussion about the politicization of the Supreme Court, or the death of a teenager, or homelessness, is reduced to nothing more than pointless shouting, the situation is a bit more disturbing.

It doesn’t matter what “side” you are on. It doesn’t matter if your position is the one you think God would take. No matter what the other person is entitled to disagree with you. Yeah, that’s important enough to warrant being both italicized and bolded.

One of the things I have discovered via Facebook is that a great many of my acquaintances hold opinions quite opposite from my own about all kinds of things.

We may disagree...

Important things. Things like whether or not homosexuality is acceptable, whether or not health care should be available, whether or not corporations should have the same rights as individuals. Unless someone insults me because of my opinions, I don’t mind.

This does not mean that I won’t “unsubscribe” from their Facebook stream. Just because they are allowed to have a different opinion doesn’t mean I have to listen to them talk about it. If you don’t like what’s playing, change the channel. I have “unsubscribed” from all sorts of people because it felt like they were shouting all the time. Even if I agree with you, shouting becomes tiresome after a little while.

The fact that we live in a society of people who hold diverse opinions should be a good thing. It gives us all a chance to be exposed to different points of view, and most of the time there is something to be learned from examining a way of thinking that is unfamiliar to you. It may help you see why people think the way they do, or help cement your own opinions.

You may be wondering how any of this has to do with writing or marketing or operating a small business. When you meet with a new client, or you attend a networking event, or you hire someone, you probably don’t know their political, religious, or social views. You probably studiously avoid talking about those things, particularly if you are trying to build a relationship or make a sale. In my experience, if you do end up building a relationship and things go well, people tend to get comfortable.

More than once, at this juncture in a business relationship, I have found myself being insulted. It is natural to assume that someone you connect with and genuinely like will hold the same opinions as you. After all, only an idiot would believe that fill-in-the-blank-here-with-anything-you-find-really-disagreeable, right? And this person is clearly not an idiot. I’ve made this mistake before, much to my own discomfort, and so have some of my associates – again, much to my discomfort.

After it becomes painfully clear that you do NOT share political or religious or social views, how do you handle the situation?

You could decide to not discuss said issue, and carry on working together. (This only works if both people decide to avoid it.)

Since the other person is clearly misguided, you could point out all the reasons they are wrong to think whatever they think. (I hope you don’t do this!)

Unfortunately, lots of people decide to tell the other person how stupid it is to think something different than you think. (If you do this to me, expect to never hear from me again.)

You could pretend to agree with everything your customer/client/colleague thinks. (Sleazy? Probably.)

There are all sorts of ways to handle it. Since I’m a non-confrontational sort of person, I try to avoid topics that could cause friction. On several occasions I’ve flatly refused to answer questions or reveal my opinions. Part of me feels cowardly in doing this, yet I don’t think that a business relationship is the right place to champion my causes. And it works, most of the time. I’ve had great working relationships with plenty of people who think differently than I do about all sorts of issues, but I have also left jobs where I felt out of place because of my opinions.

To me, the key is respect. Even if I think you are crazy to believe what you do, I respect the fact that you do believe it, and the fact that you are entitled to believe it. I may not like it, and if you shout it out often enough, I will slowly, quietly withdraw from our relationship. Unless we are personal friends, I will not try to convince you of your wrong-headedness.

Have you discovered that a client or colleague has radically different views than you do? Do you think that running a business makes difference when it comes to sharing opinions on political, religious, or social issues? If you found out your accountant of the last 15 years was a member of an organization you find deplorable, would you look for a new accountant? What if your chiropractor vehemently supports a political cause that you vigorously oppose? 

I realize that “professionalism” should come into play somewhere here. But if we are being honest, we must admit that these things do matter, even if we don’t want them to, and even if we use the mantle of professionalism to hide the fact that they do.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

14 Comments

  1. Dava, as usual, you have cut straight to the heart of an issue most of us avoid due to discomfort.
    I think it is part of the human condition to associate with groups in order to feel in touch with humanity at large. It is comforting to know that you can walk into any room and find someone that you can relate to based on schooling, religion, sports affiliations, geographic areas, books, music, politics, etc. The flip side is that we must also pigeon hole people for our own comfort. We make decisions about who someone is based on easily identifiable markers and file them in our appropriate mental drawers.
    It’s a conundrum. In order to quickly connect with someone, we search for common denominators. Unfortunately, that often leads to snap judgements on someone’s character. But in today’s ‘fast-food’ society, how do we dig deeper? Get to know someone? And, as the author queries, is that even appropriate in business?
    The answer has to be mutual respect. I don’t agree with you (AT ALL) but I respect your right to that opinion. And move on.

    • Faires, you mentioned something that I completely failed to acknowledge and that is the fact that it is useful to find those “markers” in order to connect. And some kind of connection must be made in order to do business. I guess the discord occurs when we “misfile” someone based on what we think we perceive. (Just FYI, when people are rude to me because of my opinions, I often think of you, and how you have NEVER been rude to me because we hold different views. Thanks for the years of mutual respect.)

  2. Wow! So well written and exactly my take on how I strive to be! Not saying I’m always successful, but I try. I’ve actually had colleagues totally diss an opposite opinion of theirs (which happened to be mine) because only idiots would believe that. I actually said something nice and they stuttered. I tend to do the “agree to disagree” vein. Just so you know, I’m going to reblog this because it is awesome!!

    • Thanks, Heather. It takes courage to speak up when someone inadvertently puts your opinions down. It can be really hard to admit you are one of the “idiots” when you genuinely like the person talking, but disagree with them, too.

  3. I am a bit opinionated on some things and can be over-zealous at times. Many of my friends are opposite of me politically, religiously and socially. I have to realize that it takes many types to make the world turn so there has to be respect and courtesy extended to those who wish to express their opinions on various issues. I want my blogging to be a way to build bridges, gain understanding and to have meaningful dialogue about things. Dava, I am blessed to have you as a friend because I really don’t have that many compared to others and I can’t afford to lose any of them. God bless you and keep on blogging and writing.

    • We don’t know each other that well, Tony, but I can’t imagine that your enthusiasm could be translated as rudeness. It’s cool for people to share their views like you do, it’s just terrible when disagreements get nasty. As always, thanks for commenting.

  4. Dava I love this! I was brought up to respect people no matter what they think or say, period! I do not agree with many people I communicate with but I must learn as a fellow human being to respect that they are a thinking feeling person just like me. As a counselor I must not let my own views, beliefs or emotions spill out onto my clients. It’s not my job to change their minds to believe what I believe. I may not agree with them or even like what they think, do or say but when I decided to counsel I understood that my job was to help people. I like what Heather said about agreeing to disagree, I use this all the time even when my husband and I disagree. I think what people have lost along the way is good communication skills and good old compassion and love. As a born again Christian I look to Jesus to figure out how I must behave and communicate with people. If others do not do that same I must still respect them as human beings and treat them well. What is so wrong with saying to someone, I do not agree with you but I respect your point of view and then we should make sure we show them with our behavior that we really do respect them by behaving respectfully towards them instead of being angry or pouting or using more words to beat people over their heads. What cracks me up is the folks who say they are tolerant and then beat me over the head with nasty comments or call me stupid or even worse using foul language to convince me that my religious beliefs are wrong. I do not like confrontation (hee,hee a counselor who hates confrontation!) but I have put a lot of effort and practice into learning the right way and healthy way to confront or be confronted. And with age, I have learned not to argue with a fool. :)

    • Thanks for commenting, Lynn. I cannot imagine fulfilling the duties of a counselor without letting my own opinions creep in…

  5. Dava, you are by far my favorite holder of differing opinions. Bar none. My Yin hugs your Yang.

    • I feel SO warm and fuzzy right now. Your yin hugging my yang…awwww.

  6. Dava, as always, you’ve managed to not only way what must be said, but to say it in such a way that — truly — only an idiot could disagree. :-)

    I try not to discuss my political, spiritual or non-organizing opinions with prospects or clients because it’s a distraction. I don’t want to hear about someone’s sexual proclivities; nor do I want to know the inner workings of their political beliefs. If it’s benign, it’s not that interesting; if it’s malignant, it poisons every interaction.

    Better to focus on the work at hand, and the generic fripperies of life (the weather, general happenings, how adorable someone’s children or grandchildren are) than to discuss things about which one feels passionate. Trust me, I can speak plenty passionately about combatting identity theft or decluttering to make a room safe for the clear passage of children, animals, the elderly and anyone with range-of-motion issues.

    As for the rest, I rely on the notion that discretion is the better part of valor.

    • Thanks, Julie. Perhaps I should adopt your “discretion is the better part of valor” attitude. I feel like such a coward for not speaking up sometimes.

  7. Great thought provoking post Dava. I tend to steer clear of the big two during business conversation – religion and politics. If someone won’t let it go I use the response, “You and I might not share exactly the same opinions on that. Let’s get back to work.” It doesn’t always end the conversation but it helps me qualify who I’d like to have a beer with after work.

    • That is a great response, Doug. I’m always looking for ways to handle being cornered. I sometimes just say, vaguely, “Oh, you think so?” and try to steer the conversation back to less controversial ground.

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