• Terry Dockery

BUSINESS, POLITICS AND RELIGION

The CEO was at his monthly business roundtable meeting, and one of the discussion topics put him in touch with some feelings of frustration over the policies of the majority party in the state legislature. “Those darn (insert the party you disagree with) are nothing but a bunch of crooks! They’re going to ruin this state with their misguided approach. I can’t believe anybody in their right mind would support those idiots!”


While the example above may sound farfetched, I have witnessed this type of behavior on numerous occasions in business settings. I find myself wondering what this person’s goal is. Other than venting his frustration and fears, what does he hope to accomplish by making this polarizing statement in an open group of business contacts?


For simplicity’s sake, let’s limit our discussion to the two major political parties. I believe it is safe to assume that most groups will have both Republicans and Democrats in them (unless they are specifically a political organization of some kind). Unless our CEO’s specific aim is to polarize the group so that he can align himself with the people who agree with him and alienate and anger the people who don’t, then he has made an error in judgment.

Most business people are looking to grow their businesses, and alienating potential customers or referrers of customers is not a strategy they typically employ in their marketing plans. The same holds true for religion. While specifically religious organizations would be exempt from this reasoning, why would business people want to openly criticize others who don’t agree with their religious beliefs?


Why is there so much disagreement about politics and religion? How can seemingly well-informed people hold such divergent beliefs about what is good and what is right? Here is the rub. Political and religious beliefs are based on just that; beliefs. These beliefs are about what will happen in long-term time horizons going forward into the future or backward into the past. These beliefs help us to meet our shared human need for our world to be orderly, predictable, and controllable. Who can fault us for this need? Who wants to live in a world of total chaos? The problem is that we just don’t have enough information.


Our view of past history is shaped by our beliefs about what is important; e.g., just ask any Native American or African American about their views on a typical American history book. Similarly, our view of the future, even extending past our lifetimes, is shaped by our beliefs. That’s because with these long-term time horizons there is no way to gather undisputed facts to prove that one person’s beliefs are right and another’s are wrong.

We gather the best information we can through the filter of our beliefs and make assumptions based on this information. Will a certain governmental policy produce good or bad results over time? Inevitably “experts” will line up on both sides of the argument, and none of them can produce undisputed facts to win the day. Who really knows what the outcome will be in three years, five years, twenty years, etc.? For example, “The ABC approach has worked beautifully in the XYZ government.” “Yes, but our situation is different; it won’t work here.”


Similarly, who knows unequivocally if one set of religious beliefs is right and another is wrong? With a lack of undisputed facts, ultimately we all are left with what we believe.

If you make critical statements about other peoples’ political or religious beliefs, you are upending their world view. This scares them, and most people don’t like other people who scare them. You are creating polarization instead of focusing on shared beliefs; you are creating conflict instead of focusing on common ground.


Would you like to have the support of most of your business contacts in building your organization? Most people would say “Yes, as long as they share my basic values of integrity, mutual respect, etc.” Therefore, is it really essential that they share your political and religious beliefs to have a good business relationship? Most people would say “No.” Then why risk alienating potential customers and referrers of customers by openly criticizing beliefs different from yours?

Incidentally, I have found that, at the core, people are much more alike than they are different; and it turns out that some of my closest friends have different political and religious beliefs than I.


TECHNIQUES

Technique #1: Avoid criticizing political and religious beliefs that differ from yours in general business settings.

Technique #2: Insure that you have at least some diversity of beliefs in your organization. By doing so, you can avoid the “groupthink” phenomenon which can lead to bad decisions and less than optimal performance.

Technique #3: Be clear on your target market for your organization. Who are your potential customers and referrers of customers? Then find ways to draw them to you rather than push them away.


Copyright Terry "Doc" Dockery, Ph.D. All rights reserved.

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