Driving Workplace Communication in a Polarized World

Polarization In The Workplace

The fact is, you are not going to like everyone you work with – and, news flash, not everyone is going to like you - but you still have to work together, to form a functioning team in order to meet your company’s goals and avoid polarization in the workplace. That can be easier said than done, especially in today’s divided social and political landscape. The key to making it work is communication, being able to cut through all the noise and truly connect with co-workers and clients in a meaningful, productive way. Our guests today are Jennifer Edwards and Katie McCleary, the authors of a new book called Bridge the Gap: Breakthrough Communication Tools to Transform Work Relationships from Challenging to Collaborative. Here, they explain:

  • The external and internal factors that can disrupt communication;
  • The role of curiosity in communication;
  • How personal responsibility impacts your ability to communicate; and
  • The key to building successful, communicative relationships!

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Bridging the Gaps

  • Ms. Edwards and Ms. McCleary were inspired to write their book, Bridge the Gap: Breakthrough Communication Tools to Transform Work Relationships from Challenging to Collaborative, because of their own differences and wanted to show that people can work together in spite of differences in beliefs and workstyles.
  • Others will not hear you if you do not hear them.
  • Sometimes communication won’t succeed, despite the best efforts, but it is always important to listen, and show up curious. This will happen more and more as remote work lessens, but there are ways to create a paradigm to engage with someone who you have to be able to communicate with, despite differences.
  • It is important to focus on yourself, to make yourself as open as possible to communicate in the workplace. 
    • Your energy must reflect an open environment to foster connection and collaboration in the workplace.
  • We also need to understand the other person and how their brain works, so that you can think about the best way to approach a person or situation. 
  • We are all leaders, whether it is at home, in the workplace, or in the community, and we have the responsibility to show curious and take action and transform connection.


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External Divisive Factors in Communication

  • The pandemic has certainly impacted our ability to communicate, disrupting  “the norm”, in any number of ways:
    • Fears for emotional and physical safety;
    • Stress in adjusting to new ways of doing business
    • Social isolation
    • The intermingling of the professional and the personal - Zoom calls where you are essentially invited in to your co-workers home.
      • As a result of the pandemic, we are connecting with the more wholistic version of our co-workers than we ever have before - and it is changing the way we communicate, connect and understand what it means to work with that whole.
  • Our workplaces have never been more generationally diverse than they are right now – and having four generations of people in the workplace working together, on top of differing political and personal beliefs, can definitely create some polarization in the workplace.

Biological Factors

  • We are all human – and meeting people who are very different from us can be challenging, as it demands we work a little harder to form a connection.
  • Studies show that the older people get, the urge to bridge the gap, and find commonality with others, lessens.
  • We as people are bad at judging how we show up to the conversation, and that is because of the amygdala in the brain.
    • While we live in an evolved, digitized space, the amygdala focuses on safety, and meeting the emotional needs that make us human. 
    • In the book, Ms. Edwards and Ms. McCleary personify the amygdala, referring to it as “Amy”, who they describe as your “frenemy” – your best friend and your enemy. If those three emotional needs aren’t being met, “Amy” responds by triggering a biological reaction, which can cloud the way we communicate.

The Key to Bridging the Gap

  • In a study with more than 44,000 individuals about what makes a healthy relationship, it all boils down to psychological flexibility.
    • The study says that in order for a relationship of any kind to succeed and to lessen any sense of polarization in the workplace, one person in the relationship must be psychologically flexible.
    • This flexibility is a choice, and making the choice to try and understand where the other person is coming from, and what their sense of “right” is.
    • Organizations that thrived coming out of the pandemic had a lot of psychological flexibility, to meet the needs of the employees and the clients. They were forced to think outside of the box, and it worked.

The Role of Curiosity in Communication

  • “Curiousity is an energy.”
  • When it comes to communication, finding a leader who is committed to curiosity, it can trickle down through the organization as a whole. Communication is an important tool for transparency and authenticity, and can optimize performance in the workplace.
    • “Show up curious” is a phrase that Ms. Edwards and Ms. McCleary live by, and one that plays a large role in their book. It refers to remaining open, present, and focused in order to understand the perceptions of others. This can mediate a lot of polarization in the workplace.
  • It can take commitment to turn a problem or a team around, but being curious in how you listen and communicate can make a difference. 
  • To mediate polarization in the workplace, and to be able to work with someone with whom you have differences with, it is important to connect and spend time with them so that you might be able to understand where they are coming from and suspend personal judgment.

Personal Responsibility

  • “I am an instrument of change.”
  • Taking personal responsibility is where communication in the workplace starts.
  • Whatever happens in life, you get to choose your response which can impact the outcome of the situation. 
  • In any situation, we have the choice to respond with dignity, with warmth, and with curiosity.

“The Shared Egg”

  • Relationships are all about trust and respect.
  • The “shared egg” analogy, two people are in charge of a theoretical egg in a nest, and must share the responsibility of tending to the egg, to allow it to grow and blossom. If cracks form in the egg, it’s up to us to have a meeting about how we are communicating, so that we can tend to our “egg” better. 

Bridging the Gap Book

  • This is an actionable book, basically a “How-To” guide to better communication.
    • Part One focuses on self
    • Part Two focuses on the individual you are communicating with, on “understanding the brain in front of you”.
  • The book was created to speak to people at all levels and capacities in the workplace, because we are all leaders, to some degree.
  • The book is full of practical exercises and case studies because having tangible examples of listening better, of ways to communicate with others in relatable scenarios, makes it easier to understand the best way to connect with others, avoid polarization in the workplace, and be a leader in relationships.

Jennifer Edwards Background

  • Master’s Degree in Political Science and Government from California State  University - Sacramento
  • Bachelor’s Degree in French, Spanish and Political Science from the University of California, Davis
  • Ms. Edwards currently works in Business Development for Market Force Global, and serves as Partner for Winning Streak Ventures

Katie McCleary Background

  • Master of Fine Arts (MFA) in Writing and Consciousness from the California Institute of Integral Studies
  • Bachelor of Arts (BA)  in Humanities, French and Literature from Pacific University 
  • Ms. McCleary began her career as a professor with Axia College and UC-Davis, and served as Founding Executive Director for 916 Ink
  • Currently, she is the Founder of Paper Wings Creative and serves as the host of NPR’s The Drive podcast.


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