It is very difficult for me to avoid commenting on some critical issues being addressed in the United States right now. The issue of same sex marriage is polarizing and to top that off, we are headed into another presidential election where there will first be bashing within party lines trying to get a spot, then there will be bashing across party lines trying to get the main spot. What will these divisions cost us? The difficulty with sides is that people are on them and when people are involved, emotions get involved. There is both a beauty and a curse associated with being passionate about something. The United States of course is not the only country experiencing division, Greece comes to mind right now and there are many others. Let’s bring it a little closer to home, what kind of division exists in your organization, your department, your work center and what is your role in it?

I promise not to get any more political than I have already done, that is not what is about at all, but it does illustrate a point. Please do not get me wrong, I love our democratic system and the freedom that we enjoy that came with great sacrifice. But I can’t help but wonder where division will take us. As leaders or as any workforce member, we play a critical role in how division will play out in our organization. If we can all agree that there is a healthy division and a non healthy division then we can agree that at some point a line gets crossed. Here are a few keys to keeping things fair, but also supporting a culture that embraces difference.

  • Don’t take it personal

Do you remember that Julia Roberts movie Erin Brockovich? She had a great line in that movie when someone told her not to take things at work personally. She said “Not personal?  That’s my work in there, Ed. My sweat, my labor, my time.  If that’s not personal, I don’t know what is.” My work is very personal to me as well. I am passionate about my industry and passionate about leadership. However, I cannot take someone’s opposing viewpoint as a personal attack on me just as you don’t not want to be perceived as personally attacking someone else because you don’t agree with them. This point alone can save a lot of unnecessary heartache.

  • Know your limits and learn the limits of others

You got to know when to hold ‘em and know when to fold ‘em. A lot of famous references I know, but they are appropriate. It takes a little bit of emotional maturity to recognize when you have pushed it too far. We all know when we are pushed too far but reading someone else’s limits can be difficult, especially at first. The easiest approach may be just to ask them. “Hey, it got a bit heated in there. I know we both have the company’s best interest in mind and I apologize if I pushed too hard.” Something like that said in a very calm non-threatening manner can go a long way. If the company’s best interest, in other words the mission, is really what is most important to you, then you might just have to back off your position from time to time. It will be ok, you don’t have to do it every time, but backing off may be in the best interest of the mission at times.

  • Don’t gang up

If you have spent time with someone trying to recruit them to your side, you are not building consensus, you are building division. There is a difference between selling an idea and selling a side. Selling an idea promotes growth and is evidenced by open mindedness. selling a side is promoting your viewpoint at the cost of someone else’s and is evidenced by close mindedness. Getting people on your side doesn’t help your company, it causes division which could lead to significant problems. Ganging up is precisely the thing that makes sides counterproductive and relationally very harmful.

If division is the enemy, then unity is the friend and the principle to be embraced. As leaders or workforce members in your organization, it is critical that you practice unity rather than division. The balancing act of standing up for your work and for what you believe is the right thing to do and hearing someone else’s view can be difficult to manage. Learning emotional intelligence is difficult but it can be done. Trying not to take it personal, understanding limits of all involved, and not ganging up against others view’s can keep you out of trouble and perhaps even work towards a culture of healthy diversity. Now, as they said on Hill Street Blues, “Be careful out there.”



  1. John Bennett | Reply

    I once had a boss who whenever meetings got heated would always say, “leave the emotion out of it”. Or, “I don’t understand why everyone is being so emotional”. I wanted to say pretty much exactly what you just said in this article. We’re not robots.. We are people, who are for the most part, highly invested in our work. There will always be passions and emotions in our work as long as we are dedicated and invested in it because we are human. At the same time the emotional maturity you bring up is key. We have to be able to use tact and recognize as a leader that others may not understand that yet. Very good article/blog!

    1. Bill Rieger Post author | Reply
      Bill Rieger

      Thanks for the comments John. In the world of ever increasing use of technology, including self driving cars, it is good to relate to humans!

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