First talk and then perhaps drink to connect across differences

Yes, the Heineken commercial is genius.

How can we connect across differences, if we allow our differences to define us? In light of the recent political and societal trends towards even more polarization and populism this is a fair question to ask. In case you haven’t seen it yet, the Dutch brewing company Heineken released an image film in April 2017 which hit a nerve internationally. In the clip called “Worlds Apart” the producers deal exactly with this matter: Can two strangers with opposing views prove that there’s more that unites than divides us? There have been several articles about the topic of connecting across differences on this blog, and it seems a beer commercial is summarizing much of our work experience in a thought provoking and elegant way.

The ad features three pairs of strangers who meet for the first time. At this point they are unaware of their opposing views. One pair has different opinions about feminism; the next has incompatible viewpoints on climate change. And the last pair are a man and a transgender woman who don’t see eye to eye on the issue of identity. Each of the sets of two meet in a warehouse, where they are asked to complete a series of tasks, such as assembling bar stools, answering a questionnaire, and putting together a modular bar. After completing all of these tasks, the pairs watch a video together which reveals each other’s opposing viewpoints. What happens next is… well, watch:

No, beer is not the solution

While Heineken and their creative team deserve credit for nailing the concept of dialog over partisanship, it isn’t the beverage which connects adversaries. It could as well be a game of cards, a meal, or a concert. In the past, soap has also been used as a reason to address the issue of difference and bias. Whether you like beer or drink alcohol isn’t relevant here. The “Worlds Apart” clip does a great job in highlighting a psychologic trap many of us get caught in all too easily. In many Western societies it has become a somewhat accepted behavior to limit one’s social interactions to circles which share many of one’s own biases and convictions. This is a phenomenon scholars call affective polarization and it is detrimental to healthy human interaction.

Disconnection affects how people work and do business

This retreat into trenches is self imposed and its effects are measurable, as a team of researchers have found: Christopher McConnell, Yotam Margalit, Neil Malhotra, and Matthew Levendusky conducted a series of experiments to study how polarization is leaving its mark on U.S. society. In this article for Harvard Business Review they ask: Do partisan sentiments affect economic exchanges between individuals from opposing parties?

“All four experiments offer evidence that partisanship influences economic behavior, even when it is costly. For example, in the labor market experiment people were willing to work for less money for fellow partisans; this effect is as large as the effect of factors like relevant employment experience. When presented with a purchasing opportunity, consumers were almost twice as likely to engage in a transaction when their partisanship matched the seller’s. In our survey experiment, three-quarters of the subjects refused a higher monetary payment to avoid helping the other party —  in other words, they preferred to make themselves worse off so that they would not benefit the other party. Taken together, these results clearly indicate that the trends we highlighted earlier are unlikely to be isolated incidents. The impact of party attachments on economic choices is likely to be stronger and more widespread than generally recognized.” 

Uneasiness with otherness

In other words, partisanship is not limited to politics. It extends into many areas of our social fabric and the ability to connect across difference isn’t only relevant for the sake of humanity. Being able to relate to others in light of disagreement is as important in sales and marketing, as it is in human resources and talent development. It is bottom-line relevant. It is a critical skill for business success.

Consider this: Take a quick, sheepish look at the image on the top of this page.
What did you pay more attention to: the difference or the commonality?

Cheers! Prost! Salute! Skål! Santé! На здоровье! Salud! चियर्स! 干杯!Şerefe! 乾杯!Na zdrowie! 

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