Report Finds Americans Less Likely to Discuss Controversial Issues With Their Peers in the Workplace

By Elijah Labby Wednesday, October 14, 2020

New research from data intelligence company Morning Consult and a coalition of universities and businesses found that Americans are increasingly unable or unwilling to discuss difficult topics with their peers.

The report, dubbed The Dialogue Project, was based on about a year’s worth of research and found that while Americans “think [that] polarization is a major problem… they tend to blame others more than themselves.”

While the United States was not the only country studied, researchers found that the Americans are among the most reluctant to talk about critical issues.

“Among the countries studied, the challenge of holding a respectful conversation with someone we disagree was most acute in the United States, Brazil, and India,” the report read.

The report also noted that while 63% of women are likely to view political polarization as a problem, only 51% of men think the same.

However, participants that viewed such polarization as an issue tended to see the problem as the fault of others, not themselves.

“In the US, more than three fourths (82%) of respondents said people need to be more respectful when talking with those who hold opposing views,” the report said, “but only half said they would spend more time doing so.”

The report’s contributors included major business organizations, including Pfizer, Johnson & Johnson, Southwest Airlines, General Motors, and JPMorgan Chase, all of whom expressed concern at the report’s findings.

Jamie Dimon, CEO of JPMorgan Chase, said that the report needed to mark a turning point in corporate attitudes toward respectful political discussion and that a failure to reform this problem could have far-reaching effects.

“If companies and CEOs do not get involved in public policy issues, making progress on all these problems may be more difficult,” he said. “This is a collective failure to put the needs of society ahead of our personal, parochial and partisan interests. If we do not fix these problems, America’s moral, economic and military dominance may cease to exist.”

Mary Barra of General Motors said that they have taken several steps to address some of the problems detailed in the report, including so-called “Blue Table Talks,” where “dialogue focuses on candid, unscripted, authentic conversations that address diversity, inclusion, and unconscious bias, among other things.”

“Listening leads to awareness, and as I told the team at General Motors: awareness leads to dialogue, dialogue leads to understanding, and understanding leads to change,” she said.

Furthermore, research shows that employees value empathy when dealing with difficult situations.

A study conducted by Rae Shanahan, Chief Strategy Officer at Businessolver, found nine out of ten workers believed that empathy was a crucial element in creating a hospitable workplace.

Morning Consult’s findings come amid an especially contentious election in which Americans’ disparate perceptions of recent police brutality incidents, the coronavirus pandemic, a Supreme Court nomination, and other national events are being laid bare.

Concerns about the election may also be driving workplace conflict. A Gartner study released in February found that 78% of people discuss politics at work, and almost half of workers say the election has decreased their ability to perform their job.

What’s worse, the study found that 36% of Americans avoided working with or speaking to a coworker because of their political views.

“Imagine what happens to an organization’s ability to get stuff done when roughly one out of three of your employees is actively avoiding another employee because they have different political beliefs,” Brian Kropp, vice president at Gartner, said in an interview with CNBC.

Bob Feldman, who founded the Dialogue Project, stressed the importance of collaboration regardless of ideological differences in a statement accompanying the study.

"We must find a way to break out of the paralysis of tribal politics, information bubbles, suspicion and incivility in which we find ourselves," he said.

He said that business provides a unique opportunity for people of various backgrounds to find common ground.

“American business is one of the few places where people from different nationalities, religions, political beliefs often encounter others with differing opinions,” Feldman said. “The success a number of businesses have had in helping employees and communities discuss difficult issues is intriguing and shines a light on how these initiatives provide potential solutions."

About the Author


Headshot for author Elijah Labby

Elijah Labby is a graduate of the National Journalism Center. He has previously written for Broadband Breakfast, a technology and internet policy website.

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