I had a conversation with someone this week—in Spain of all places—that struck me, and I think it’ll strike you, too.
It was after I’d given a big speech about teamwork at the #AtlassianSummit. An executive at the company told me that it was interesting that we talk about teamwork a lot at work, but we don’t really talk about society as teamwork.
For example, the man pointed out, Senator John McCain had just died. The exec had had zero in-person conversations with people about McCain and what his life and ideas meant… meanwhile his whole Facebook feed was full of squabbling about it, tearing each other apart over it, even.
Weren’t funerals supposed to bring people together? To remind us that what matters is each other?
This observation was especially interesting given the content of the eulogies former Presidents Bush and Obama gave. If you haven’t read them yet, you should. Here they are. But the upshot is they remind us about something that perhaps is easier to see from the perspective of someone who was once the most powerful person in the world.
Here’s George, talking about McCain:
“Back in the day, he could frustrate me. And I know he’d say the same thing about me. But he also made me better.”
Here’s Barry, talking about McCain:
“For all our differences, for all of the times we sparred, I never tried to hide — and I think John came to understand — the long-standing admiration that I had for him… We learned from each other.”
The fact that John disagreed with these guys—the fact that he was a pain sometimes when he raised points the other one didn’t want to hear—made each of them better. Bush and Obama repeated this over and over.
But it wasn’t just disagreeing that made them better. If that was the case, all our fighting on Facebook would have turned us into the X-Men by now.
There were two things that made a difference. First, they each saw the arguments and disagreements as things that could make them better. They had, in other words, a Growth Mindset about their disagreements.
And second, they saw each other as people, not as obstacles or monsters or some other non-human thing. They didn’t hide behind keyboards or TV cameras and lob lopsided arguments at each other. They sat down and talked things out.
This little bit that Obama shared toward the end of his eulogy says it all:
“Every so often over the course of my presidency, John would come over to the White House and we'd just sit and talk in the Oval Office, just the two of us. We'd talk about policy and we'd talk about family. And we'd talk about the state of our politics.
And our disagreements didn't go away during these private conversations. Those were real and they were often deep.
But we enjoyed the time we shared away from the bright lights. And we laughed with each other. And we learned from each other. And we never doubted the other man's sincerity. Or the other man's patriotism. Or that when all was said and done, we were on the same team.
We never doubted we were on the same team.”
How awesome is that?
So how’s this: The next time we disagree completely and intensely with someone, let’s try to do two things:
1) Let’s remember that disagreement is an opportunity for learning and growth. The teammate your need is NOT the person who gives you the least resistance; and
2) Let’s take things offline once in a while and have the hard conversations with each other as human beings. Let’s discuss and laugh and disagree face to face, and remind ourselves that we’re on the same team.
I suspect if we did more of those two things, we’d get a lot done together.