This article was originally published on the fantastic blog Spin Sucks. You can find it here.
Do you remember the last time you saw a social media post about an opposing political viewpoint? Your face probably got a little red. You immediately thought of a response that included a few choice four-letter words. Maybe it was a meme lampooning your candidate or the link to the ultra-extreme political blog from your sworn enemies.
Well, it’s going to happen more and more as we go through this election year.
I’m going to try to convince you to break the cycle and not post about politics on social media. This is especially true when you are on platforms where you connect with people from the professional parts of your life. That could mean Facebook and Instagram, and almost certainly means LinkedIn and Twitter.
Taking a pass on sharing political updates on social isn’t about repressing your opinion, it’s about taking a look at whether it will help or hurt your ability to connect and engage with others.
The Science of Tribalism
It also isn’t just a call for more civility online, although we could definitely use some of that. It’s practical business advice that’s grounded in neuroscience. When we’re online, we want to keep in mind something called the Minimal Group Paradigm. It’s a tool that social scientists use when examining the minimal conditions required for discrimination to occur between groups.
Basically, it describes the development of the “us” vs. “them” mentality. Not only has it been proven that we quickly identify with our own group and create negative views of outsiders, but the categories that we use to develop those identifications are often more minor and arbitrary than you might think or hope.
All it takes is one post for an online connection to label you as “not like me” and then it’s going to be that much harder to develop a relationship and do business together.
One of my first mentors taught me a great shorthand question to decide if you should take an action in business. He suggested that I simply ask, “Will this help or will this hurt” before I moved forward.
So the question is: “Do political posts help or hurt?”
Your post about your favorite candidate or belief might create a connection between those who already agree with you, but it will drive away those who don’t.
Can You Still Talk Politics?
In the past, we would develop robust relationships with colleagues, clients, and coworkers and we would create a strong “we” as we interacted in daily life. Then, if we realized we might not see eye-to-eye on a political question, it wouldn’t torpedo the whole relationship.
These days, the superficiality of conversations on digital media causes problems. That lack of depth isn’t necessarily bad, but we have to accept the limits of the medium.
Because our social media activity precedes us, we don’t always have the chance to build the foundation first. If we “lead” with our political views, we cut off the chance to create meaningful business connections with those that disagree with us.
My business network spans the political spectrum, and there are fantastic people that I engage with that don’t have the same viewpoints as me. We have great conversations that span the intersection of business and politics, and it doesn’t require us to have the same opinions
It’s important, though, that these conversations are built on trust and respect. They usually happen in the real world, and not by a series of status updates. There’s a time and a place for all different types of conversation, and I’ve found that these high-emotion, high-opinion conversations work best offline.
How to Approach Election Time
In the next few months, you are going to want to comment on, like, or share some piece of material that is political in nature. And if you feel you need to post something online, ask yourself, “Why?”
Will this information add to the level of discourse? Will it actually create a nuanced and informed conversation? Think back: How many times have you seen a Facebook or LinkedIn post that espouses an opposite view point that has actually made you change your opinion?
I’m not recommending that you shouldn’t use your voice or that you hide your opinions. I am suggesting that you think about the medium and context you are using to share those opinions. The key to vibrant business relationships (and a vibrant civic society) lies in finding our connections, not highlighting our differences.
If you think that your job as a citizen is to blast stuff out, then totally, be my guest. But I will probably hide you from my newsfeed, as will others. And then, you’ve lost a forum to build bridges for business and politics.