This story appeared last night on CBS’ 60 Minutes. Oprah Winfrey did the story.
One year into Donald Trump’s presidency, Americans remain divided, often unwilling to listen to what the other side has to say. It’s happening in families, among friends and at the workplace. We witnessed that schism first-hand last fall when we went to Grand Rapids, Michigan, and gathered 14 people – seven who voted for Mr. Trump, seven who did not – for a wide-ranging discussion about politics, policy and the president himself. To mark President Trump’s first year in office we decided to repeat the experiment. We never intended to go back to Grand Rapids. But then we learned that, after disagreeing on virtually everything, our group stayed in close touch. Members from opposite sides of the divide actually became friends, organizing outings and talking every day in a private facebook chat group. All of that made us want to go back.
You should watch the segment on 60 Minutes’ website. I wasn’t intrigued so much by the political banter or debate, but by the fact that 14 people split right down the middle in maintaining very opposite views would continue to engage with each other. The conservative pollster Frank Luntz had assembled the group for CBS. He said, “I was surprised that they stayed together because there was every reason, based on the conversation, that they would pull themselves apart. But what I liked about it is that they came to respect each other, appreciate each other, and live each other’s lives to some degree so that they could empathize. That was a laboratory.”
The Peer Advantage isn’t fiction. It’s real and last night we saw a demonstration of it on a prime time legendary news magazine TV show, 60 Minutes.
Lauren, one of the members of this 14-person group offered this:
I don’t have access to Trump voters outside of this group. In fact, during the election, I pretty much deleted everybody, who believed in the values that Trump espoused. So this group has helped me to understand perspectives that I would not have had access to. And so I’ve been able to take that out to my friends who don’t have access to Trumpers, and they come back and say, “Hey, I really learned a lot.” That’s huge. Because everybody wants to feel understood, but it’s quite a different thing to want to understand. And I think most of us have gotten that out of this.
Business owners and CEO’s can be every bit as jaded as people with strong political positions. We know what we know and mostly, we feel convinced we’re right. But as this – and many other stories – show, being right isn’t the goal. It’s about being understood and understanding.
What You Don’t Know Will Hurt You
Business leaders hate blind spots. We grow annoyed when something occurs that we knew nothing about. It’s made worse when we find out somebody in our organization knew it but failed to share it.
Leaders crave information, data, and facts. Because these things fuel our ability to make wiser decisions. And business leaders – perhaps more than the average person – hate being fooled, or getting it wrong because we didn’t see it correctly (or because we didn’t see the whole thing). Many of us are comfortable if we make a mistake because we were trying something new or innovative. But we can’t stand to be defeated by a lack of information, or a lack of insight – things we mostly feel could have been avoided, but weren’t.
Why then do you continue to live with your assumptions as though they’re facts?
Why do you press on with the same thoughts, ideas, and perceptions when you’ve neglected to really put them to the test?
Like Lauren, many of us have shut off all opposing viewpoints. We’ve surrounded ourselves only by people who are just like us. We say we don’t want a bunch of “yes men” around us, but that’s exactly what we’ve done. Maybe not intentionally, but that’s been the outcome of our actions and behaviors over the course of time. We didn’t see it coming. We never sensed it was happening. And maybe today – you still don’t know it. That’s even worse. Not knowing.
How can one person be so staunchly in favor of something that somebody else can so staunchly oppose? Because they think differently based on their experiences, insights, and opinions. They understand the issue differently.
In business, we’re not concerned at all with imposing our viewpoints on others. In politics, that seems to be the only goal. That gives us a big advantage – The Peer Advantage.
When a custom home builder sits across from an aircraft parts manufacturer, a car dealer, a non-profit and a host of other business owners from different spaces — he learns things he’d never have learned otherwise. He gains insights that at first tempted to think, “That’s not going be helpful to me and my situation.” Until he discovers how wrong he was. Just another assumption he made that proved incorrect.
When he brings a marketing challenge to the group and the discussion begins it’s evident that the fact they don’t build houses is helpful, not hurtful. They don’t suffer his tunnel vision. They don’t suffer his jaded outlook on his own industry. Or his assumptions, especially the ones that aren’t correct.
Positions are explained. Experiences are shared. He sits there quietly taking it in, occasionally answering questions asked by the group to better understand his challenge. It’s not confrontational, but it’s a room of CEO’s and business owners. Everybody has the captain mentality. So the conversations are mostly to the point and quick at getting to the crux of the matter. It’s what we do. It’s how we operate. All the participants appreciate it.
There’s disagreement. Some dissenting viewpoints. But every member has committed to first understanding. Active listening is employed. Not simply hearing the words spoken, but intently working to understand the meaning that’s trying to be expressed. That’s why this room thrives on questions. And these aren’t passive-aggressive questions either. The person leading the group won’t tolerate it, nor will the rest of the room. It didn’t take them long to figure out that their questions needed to be non-judgmental. In fact, just about all of them said it was among the first lessons they learned by being in the group — and it really helped them back at their office as they honed their skills to ask better questions. Many of them shared insights how they realized they were able to completely foil progress by asking questions that contained their personal answer. Just another component of the peer advantage.
What We Have In Common Binds Us
The group assembled by 60 Minutes were all people very involved in the political process. They care about it and are passionate in their viewpoints. They’re all Americans with a vested interest in the outcome. There’s no disputing that each of them wants America to excel in every way.
They’re all honest in their passion and opinions. Perhaps some of them have personalities that are more prone toward contrarianism than not, but they’re not in the group to be contrary. They are all there to express their viewpoints. Well, that’s how it began. Turns out, they’re all sticking around to hear opposing views and to better understand them.
They’re Americans. Who care. That’s enough of a bind.
What We Don’t Have In Common Pushes Us Forward
The 60 Minutes’ group differs wildly in their opinions, viewpoints, and perspectives. That fuels the dialogue and debate. And like the business owners who gather, it provokes questions to foster better (deeper) understanding. No, it doesn’t always happen, but the process powers progress.
Toward the end of the program, Oprah asks one man, Matt, what he had gotten from the group.
Heartache. Dead phone batteries. This is a good group of people. You guys really are. And I understand everybody’s set in their ways. It’s, it’s, it’s not the 80% that we will never change that we’re just never gonna agree on 80%. So 20% we need to figure out a way to come together on.
It’s not about changing minds by forcing opinions on others. It’s about listening, learning and understanding. It’s about gaining insights about others so we can better understand ourselves. And what we can do to grow, improve and transform.
No, it’s not always comfortable. Like going to the gym for the first time in years, it can be painful. But if we’ll keep at it…we’ll get stronger. Healthier. More fit. Better in every way to become leaders worthy of being followed. Business owners thriving in business and in life because we’re now in the habit of seeing multiple sides of an issue, whether it’s a problem or an opportunity. And we all know that knowledge is power.
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