Vote 1 Polarisation
In Australia we are deep in the public ‘debate’ about the upcoming referendum on an Indigenous Voice to Parliament enshrined in the constitution. In the national media at least it tends to be less a debate and more a noisy process of defending one’s own opinions and deriding the others’.

The unseemly nature of the public discourse is perhaps inevitable given that we are looking at raw politics at play. But even without the political nature of the discussion a referendum is always polarising because it forces a binary choice. Yes or no. Support or don’t support. I am right, which means you must be wrong.

The dynamic that is forcing Australians into one of two camps – pro or con – comes at a cost to our national harmony. It’s also a great example of what to avoid when working with diverse stakeholders on complex issues, because binary debates are not only overly simplistic, they always force people further apart.

When I work to convince you of why I am right, while at the same time refuting your attempts to do the same, we can’t help but become further entrenched in our own positions. The distance between us can only grow, and we each become even more ‘wrong’ in the eyes of the other.

How to get unstuck
What can we do about it? When in this situation we need to reverse the polarising nature of the discussion, and find ways to talk that bring us closer together rather than drive us apart. Ultimately we want them to be curious about our ideas and perspectives, but this can be challenging because in order to do this we probably first need to be curious about and interested in their ideas and perspectives. That is, we need to:
– Stop talking and start listening.
– Be authentically curious about what they are saying and why.
– Help them articulate their position more clearly.
– Be genuinely open-minded.
Then perhaps they will start to explore our opinion.

When collaborating, don’t set up situations that become referendums on the question at hand. Rather, set up conversations full of exploration and learning. That’s how we make progress together on complex issues. I vote yes to that.