Our country has been rocked by one of the most negative, divisive campaigns in history over these past months. The way each of us responds today and each day after that controls the civility of our communities and the nature of our public discourse.

If the election votes tell us anything, it’s that we have a deeply divided country. As the conversations start up today and you either feel supremely satisfied with the election results or exceeding disappointed, be mindful with your words. Those of you who didn’t find victory last night have a great responsibility to avoid a defensive communication stance while those who won need to reach for grace.

First, I want to talk to those who lost. If you’re like most people, you are likely in a defensive mode. When your reflexive reaction to a situation – like a lost election –  is to shut down or lash out, you’ve got a challenge: neutralizing the negative. Shutting down will do nothing to further the conversation or resolve any brewing issues. Lashing out merely throws gasoline on an already smoldering situation. First, acknowledge (just to yourself) that you are indeed on the defensive. Recognizing your own responses and the role they may play in ineffective communication is a great place to start.

Next, step back and make a concerted effort to understand the broader implications of the way you show up today. Who is watching you for cues on how to deal with a difficult situation? Who needs your words of wisdom or support? Who in your world needs you to serve as a leader and be the one who deftly manages your emotions and your words? Dealing with defeat is tough, doing it in a way that avoids dragging those around you into a pit of negativity is tougher.

For those of you that elected your candidate for congress or the presidency or passed the ballot measures that you’ve long supported, be kind with your words as you take you victory lap around the water cooler today and in the days to come. Those who opposed you have the same deep passion you do and they need time to process their losses. Try to find a way to focus on the positive that is inclusive. Asking others to cheer on your victory is both insensitive and self-serving. Be bigger than that. Use your conversations today to begin mending some notably damaged social fences.

All of us need to be careful with the assumption that our responses are really just about our individual selves; the way each of us shows up today could set the tone for many months to come. Someone else’s momentary failure to participate productively and positively in communication doesn’t have to push you into negative territory. Make a conscious effort to protect your relationships and rapport from any insensitivity and/or verbal jabbing today. Don’t take the bait. There is very little positive outcome that can result from a knee-jerk, emotionally charged response. Don’t let misunderstandings, someone else’s rancor, or poor communication skills derail you. Neutralize the negative and keep yourself and your own space positive whenever possible. Be thoughtful, be caring

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