Find Common Ground by Listening to Each Other

Political strategists stress the importance of civil discourse

Kathy Gurchiek By Kathy Gurchiek March 12, 2018
Find Common Ground by Listening to Each Other

​Lunch was over but Donna Brazile, former interim head of the Democratic National Committee during the 2016 presidential campaign, and Sean Spicer, former White House press secretary for President Donald Trump, were dishing.

"We have become more and more polarized," Spicer said of the nation. "Any attempt to listen to another side … is met with vitriol."

Brazile concurred, noting that people can find common ground and be cordial even while disagreeing. She called Spicer a friend who returned her phone calls and e-mails when she was facing political heat and turmoil.

And "when he was in the White House, I wanted to be that friend [to him]," she said.

Brazile is the author of Hacks: The Inside Story of the Break-ins and Breakdowns That Put Donald Trump in the White House (Hatchette Books, 2017) and Cooking with Grease: Stirring the Pots in America (Simon & Schuster, 2005). Brazile became the first black woman to head a major presidential campaign when she spearheaded former Vice President Al Gore's 2000 presidential bid.

Spicer has served as assistant U.S. trade representative, Republican National Committee chief strategist, top advisor to presidential campaigns and former acting White House communications director. He played a key role in the strategy behind the party's sweeping 2014 victories, the 2016 primary debates and Republican wins across the country that November.

The two political heavyweights were the featured speakers during a question-and-answer discussion during the Monday afternoon general session at the 2018 Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) Employment Law & Legislative Conference in Washington, D.C.

Johnny C. Taylor, Jr., SHRM-SCP, president and chief executive officer of SHRM, welcomed the speakers, and Lisa Horn, SHRM's director of congressional affairs, introduced the Q&A by noting that SHRM is a nonpartisan organization.

"We are not a Republican organization. We are not a Democratic organization. We're for good workplace policy," Horn said. "The key to achieving that is hearing from, and working with, people who have different viewpoints."

Although Brazile and Spicer represent different political parties and viewpoints, they both emphasized the importance of civil discourse, and their remarks displayed more of a saucy playfulness than ideological roasting or skewering.

Spicer advised organizations not to ban political discussions at work, instead suggesting HR encourage people to listen respectfully so they can learn from one another. "Right now, it's become so black and white there is no attempt to have a dialogue and understand" one another, he remarked.

The rollicking discussion ended with questions from the audience. One dealt with the issue of sexual misconduct in the workplace, with an attendee referring to allegations that have been made against Trump.

Sexual harassment and inappropriate behavior didn't start with Trump or former President Bill Clinton or any other politician, or even in Hollywood, Brazile pointed out.

It's "a pervasive problem in our society. We have to make sure our workplace is free of any form of harassment and train our workers on what constitutes sexual misconduct and harassment," she said. "We need 21st century policies. We cannot objectify [others], inappropriately touch [someone] … or ask me to make your coffee anymore. As HR professionals, you are all on the front lines in dealing with this conversation."

She encouraged attendees to make the most of the conference.

"Our workplaces have become pretty difficult," Brazile remarked. "Use this conference as an opportunity to network and make sure you're updated on all workplace laws. Go back and train your colleagues on what's appropriate and what's inappropriate so people who might not know 21st century practices are [knowledgeable about] the law."


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