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

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.

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 dobelieve 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.

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