A couple weeks ago it emerged that House Republican Jeff Sessions told President Obama that he “couldn’t even stand to look at him” in a negotiation meeting during the recent government shutdown. That account was later denied by The White House as an exchange that “didn’t happen”.
If it did happen, it probably wasn’t in anyone’s interest to talk about publicly when the parties were trying to break the gridlock. But this did bring to mind a thought I had about common civility in government and in business and harkened back to Republican Congressman Joe Wilson’s break with decorum during President Obama’s 2009 address to a joint session of congress when he yelled “You lie”.
I first became politically aware at a very young age. It was the impeachment of Richard Nixon that, when explained to me in the way a parent can explain it to a 7 year old, drew me into a permanent fascination with politics. And ever since then I can’t recall such incivility in Washington as we have today. I believe that despite who is in office, there’s a certain respect for the office itself that must be maintained.
Anyone who knows me probably knows I’m not a Republican. I was livid with George W. Bush for many reasons related to policy. Additionally, I don’t believe he had the wisdom nor the intellectual curiosity and chops needed to be president. And I imagined if I ever got the chance, I would run through the litany of complaints I had. But a few years ago, when we were incredibly fortunate to be invited to The White House to meet a sitting president, what I ended up saying was, “It’s an honor to meet you, Mr. President.”
I have business meetings with people I personally dislike from time to time. But, I have to deal with them. It’s almost impossible to get things done if the tone turns negative and personal feelings are brought into the situation. It’s not always easy, and I’ve been drawn into uncivil conversations in the past, especially online. But to paraphrase a quote from Jerry McGuire, “that’s why it’s called ‘show business’ instead of ‘show friends.’”
In business and politics, keep it civil. Keep it productive. Complain in private to your most trusted friends if you must – and even that’s not a great idea. But don’t prevent good business from getting done by wearing your negative emotions on your sleeve – especially when more than your own fate depends upon reaching a workable agreement. Most business and politics are conducted by rational actors – people who act in their best interests even though they may employ hardball negotiation tactics. Keep your emotions at home.