How Business Leaders Can Help Reduce Polarization

By M. Robert Weidner posted 09-12-2022 16:13


Labor Day has passed, and election season is in full swing. Americans are being reminded daily that there’s a lot that divides us — and surely there is. In January 2020, Brown University economists concluded the United States is polarizing faster than other democracies. Those findings came before the COVID-19 pandemic and our last contentious presidential election.

But there’s a lot that unites us too.

Maybe, as the late Dodgers announcer Vin Scully said, it’s baseball. Maybe it’s something else, but in the face of increased political polarization, it’s time for the business community to lead and to foster unity.

We know how to work together to negotiate a fair deal between two parties. A paper published this summer explored how market-based economic institutions foster peace. “The market is constituted by overlapping and interdependent arrangements of buyers and sellers who voluntarily transact in accordance with their purposes,” the authors explained. These voluntary interactions build relationships, even friendships, and encourage participants “to consider the perspectives of others, many of whom are quite different than ourselves.”

Here are three things industrial metals leaders can do to bridge the divides that are tearing Americans apart.  


Leadership: Don’t Dominate, Collaborate

When negotiating a business deal, the goal isn’t for one party to come out a winner. It’s for both parties to come out better. Zero sum thinking has no place in business. Executives can discourage zero sum thinking in their workforce by adopting a collaborative leadership style.

Social scientists from Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business concluded business leaders who try to influence their employees through dominance encourage greater zero-sum thinking. How? “Employees working under a dominant leader will interpret their leader’s forceful influence tactics as a cue of what is required for success in the workplace,” the scientists wrote.

The result of this culture of dominance is that employees are more likely to want to work alone, and less likely to help their colleagues — even when it would clearly benefit the overall business.


Service: Get to Work in the Community

While there are many issues on which Americans disagree, there are many causes on which we can come together. Take the United States’ national blood shortage, for example.

An October 2021 Harvard Business Review article advised that business leaders prioritize corporate volunteering programs, which “build a sense of unity around a common social interest.” A byproduct of these events is that employees have a chance to come together to create meaningful connections despite religious, political, or other issues that normally divide them. The article offered a program run by the American Red Cross of Los Angeles as an example. The Red Cross brought together leaders from different faiths to discuss how they could encourage more people from their flock to donate blood.

Hold a blood drive. Take a team to an MSCI chapter scholarship fundraising event. When people from different walks of life realize we can work together to solve problems in our communities, perhaps we’ll understand that ideology isn’t a barrier to solving national problems either.

Education: Foster Emotional Intelligence

As the U.S. Chamber of Commerce has explained, emotional intelligence (EQ) is the ability to manage feelings and empathize with others.

Writing for American Express, business consultant Alexandra Levit said to foster EQ, business leaders should mentor young professionals on diplomacy and how to manage sticky situations. Levit also advised leaders not to avoid difficult conversations, even at the beginning of a working relationship. “Frank conversations with new hires on the political nuances in the organization” takes the guesswork out of tackling a new job, she said.

One of the best ways to foster empathy is through storytelling. Vin Scully, who called 67 seasons for the Dodgers, was one of the world’s greatest storytellers. As Wall Street Journal senior editor Bruce Orwall wrote, Scully “unfurled long, conversational stories, sometimes lasting several innings, in a style that felt like a good friend describing the game rather than a far-off announcer.”

These stories didn’t just make us feel like we were at the game. They made a feel like we knew the players — and they made us like the guys on the field even if they weren’t on our home team. Fostering an environment where employees can share their stories and vulnerabilities will strengthen our collective ability to come together despite differences.

How will you know when you’re on the right track? It’s simple. Your employees will meet up outside work. Getting together for a backyard family picnic, or to watch a little baseball, means your teammates are genuinely interested in one another. These relationships will help them flourish in their day jobs — and will help them be better neighbors and citizens. 

1 comment



09-14-2022 10:14

By reducing Polarization in the work place, picking up the tempo of Collaboration between departments, and broadening our Emotional Intelligence many good things will happen!  Who knows we may even attract much needed workers by creating this welcoming environment. That would have an exponential positive effect on all commerce.  Great points Bob.  Count me in.  :)