Conflict is a turn off…at work and politics

Conflict. I’m always shocked by how rude the British electorate is about politicians. Now having witnessed the key election debates I think I know why.

A couple of years ago two psychologists Christine Porath and Amir Erez researched the effect of rudeness and conflict on employees at work. If the rudeness was directed personally, the recipient was so distressed that their work performance on a variety of tasks diminished by 66% and even if that conflict was just witnessed then the work output of those who watched was still reduced by 33%. It is this witness behaviour which I found especially interesting.

When people witness rude behaviour their own incivility increases, these researchers discovered. They become more aggressive and antisocial. And when their helpfulness was tested, those who witnessed rudeness were 50% less helpful to those around them. In addition, 94% of those watching the conflict wanted to get even with the perpetrator and 88% with the organisation they embody.

Let’s translate this to the political arena. When politicians argue on television those of us watching who witness this behaviour experience an increase in our own aggression and want to take this out on the political perpetrator. So it’s not a leap to understand why we behave badly to politicians as we witness their aggression to each other.

On a recent BBC Question Time a member of the audience as well as a panellist denigrated Tony Blair. The Liberal Democrat MP Vince Cable stood up for him claiming that Parliament gave Tony Blair a standing ovation when he gave up his seat… including the panellist who denigrated him.

This intervention was as surprising as it was refreshing. Here was a politician talking positively about another politician not of his party. His input was polite, well balanced with no points scoring….and sadly unusual.

Do politicians not realise that we can see through the rhetoric and find the rudeness and conflict thoroughly off putting? When politicians start being at least considerate of opposition views and ours, then they will discover that the electorate will reciprocate with consideration and respect.

What a relief last night to have the BBC dispense with confrontation and go down the Q&A route. At least we could hear what was being said with an experienced umpire at the helm.

What I would like to see in politicians are:

  • ideas and policies presented with clarity
  • good interpersonal and negotiation skills
  • great arguments without raised voices
  • honest admission of mistakes as they are human and flawed like the rest of us
  • an ability to listen to us, the electorate, as well as each other.

Did we get clarity last night? Probably not but we did at least hear the policies. So stop the rudeness. We don’t like it and we won’t vote for it.