I was attending a diversity training retreat in Las Vegas when we received word that the jury had made a decision in the O.J. Simpson case. Some of you will remember the trial that had dominated the daily news for months. My fellow diversity consultants and I, along with the rest of the nation, sat riveted to the television screen. We held our collective breaths as the verdict was read: “Not guilty.” We sat in shocked silence.
Our program leaders knew we couldn’t continue with business as usual. They scrapped the planned afternoon schedule to allow us time to go off on our own to absorb the news and reflect on its meaning and impact, personally and professionally, at home and in the world. At the end of the day, we regrouped to explore our reflections and insights as much as we felt comfortable doing so.
Our team included African Americans, Caucasians, East Indians and Latinos, both men and women, across generations ranging in age from those in their 20s to 50s. As we came together, we went around the table and shared how we had spent the afternoon, our thoughts and feelings of the day’s events. We revealed what outcome we had expected, what outcome we had hoped for, and why.
What followed was earth-shattering to each of us in our own ways. How was it possible that the person sitting next to me, with whom I co-facilitated the core competencies of valuing diversity, could see the trial outcome so differently than I had? Yet we teach what we need to learn. That one experience did more to remove the blinders on my assumptions than all the diversity training I had presented and practiced until then.
Flash forward to this week’s presidential election earthquake. Whether we mourn or celebrate our candidate’s outcome, discovering that cherished family or friends view the world through different lenses than ours can cause painful aftershocks as intense as the election returns themselves. As you ponder how best to navigate the new norm of your relationships, here are a few tools to guide you on the journey:
Give yourselves space. By avoiding potentially polarizing conversations, you open the possibility for maintaining the relationship. Time apart doesn’t necessarily mean the end of your association, but rather a chance to see it from a fresh perspective.
Remember what brought you together in the first place. Does that situation still exist? Can you find common ground moving forward? Ask what each of you needs for the relationship to survive. What’s your walkaway point?
Consider the situation from the other person’s perspective. Listen without the need to respond. Explore why your relationship matters. If authentic, reaffirm your desire to renew your relationship, to learn from each other and to grow in the process towards mutual respect and understanding.
What challenges have you faced in your relationships during this election season? What strategies have helped you work through your differences? Please share with us here.