You might not realize how much of my job as a designer is helping people come to agreement within their organizations. When one partner wants red and the other wants blue, or one wants squares and one wants curves, I fall back on my skills that I learned in my Mediation and Conflict Resolution class. There is so much tension in our world, our families, and our workplaces, that this might be a helpful little reminder about how we can get all of those relationships back on track.
If we focus on the big picture and the long-term relationship, we can always find something to agree on. And usually, those are the most important issues. Organization mission and vision statements should serve as powerful points of agreement. Maybe we all want our company to sell more widgets, or serve more people. Maybe we all love apple pie. Maybe we all want the election to be over. Maybe we all love the same sports team. Maybe we all wish it would stop (or start) raining. Maybe we all think Daylight Savings Time is a pain. Certainly, you can find something to agree on – something you have in common.
Many people have said this, and I just heard Malcolm Gladwell talk about this in an interview about the U.S. election. He wants us to realize that even with the people who seem like they’re on the opposite sides of all of the issues, we probably agree on 500 things and disagree on 5. “Even your greatest political enemies have more in common with you than they disagree with you.” He rightfully observed that so many of us only want to talk about the things we disagree on, instead of the things we see eye-to-eye on.
It’s natural for the brain to seek out contrast. We notice the thing that doesn’t match. Seth Godin calls it a Purple Cow, which is remarkable. And when we’re marketing our products, we do want to stand out from the crowd. But when we’re trying to salvage long-term relationships with our families, co-workers and friends, I think it will do us good to focus on the things we agree on.
Especially in times like this, we can’t take these points of agreement for granted. We should talk about them, probably pretty extensively, to make sure everyone feels like they’re starting on the same page. And then, starting from that point, we can work on a win-win solution to the most pressing conflict at hand.
I think our task is to remember, focus on, and start with acknowledging the many things we have in common with the people around us. And it’s not hard – there are so many things we all share. Thanksgiving is coming, and then the holidays, and then a new year that we’re all hoping is happy and healthy.