By Jessica Maldonado | Public affairs manager, PolicyWorks LLC

The 2016 election highlighted the divides in our country, but instead of coming together since then, the divides seem to be deepening. 
Whether it's the news source you frequent or your friends list on Facebook, people have begun to only tune in or interact with people who share the same viewpoints. This dangerous habit has led to a lack of civility in interactions with people of differing political thoughts.

I was fortunate to grow up with parents who had differing political views. Every election year spurred political debates during dinner, and I am a more thoughtful person because of it. Their civil debate and friendly banter helped me know it's OK to speak up when you don't agree -- and this same scenario can often be found in the workplace.
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I also remember riding in the car to their polling place, where they would go in and cancel out each other's votes. They voted anyway, because it mattered.

I recently had the honor of moderating a legislative forum in the metro area. While the majority of attendees patiently waited their turn and asked tough questions of their legislators in a respectful way, there were a few people who seemed more interested in causing a scene than having a productive conversation. Regardless of political party, we should have respect for the people who have raised their hand to run as a public servant.

There was one disgruntled attendee at the forum who had recruited a large contingent of advocates to attend, and was unhappy that the host organization did not have a large enough venue to accommodate all of them. Historically, the venue had always been large enough to host this annual event. I couldn't help but wonder, where were these attendees in years past? Advocacy should not stop and start with an election or a legislative session; it's a year-round effort, and relationships need to be cultivated with elected officials. Effective advocacy means you show up to say thank you for good legislation, not just when you disagree with legislation.

It is a privilege to live in a country where citizens can speak their mind, but people should be mindful to use their voice for positive change. At many public forums, there are people who show up simply to make noise, and there are others who attend to respectfully voice their opposition and try to find solutions.

This same scenario can often be found in the workplace. I learned several things while moderating the legislative forum that can also translate to female leaders in their professional lives. They include:
  • Be confident. When moderating a meeting or crowd with more than 125 people, it is important to be confident in your decisions and not second-guess yourself.
  • Don't give up the microphone if it's been entrusted to you. Handing it to someone else is transferring the trust and respect that people placed in your hands.
  • Let people speak their mind in the meeting, even if their opinion differs from the leadership. However, make sure to cut off remarks that lack civility and ask audience members to either speak respectfully or cut to their question/solution.
  • Manage time and topics. It's easy to get hung up on one topic and debate it to death. Let it have its due time, but then lead the discussion to the next topic.
Social media has also led to a decrease in civility, as it often rewards aggressive, pointed messaging that further fuels the political divides. It is now easier than ever for people to push out their opinions, but this "sound bite" advocacy does not lend itself to the real dialogue needed to bring people together.

I challenge you to grab coffee with someone from the other side of the political aisle. We have a lot more to learn from people on the opposite side of an issue than we do from people on our own side. You don't have to agree with them, but at least you will understand their reasoning. That will go a long way in bringing civility back to politics.

Jessica Maldonado is the public affairs manager for PolicyWorks, assisting clients with public affairs, advocacy efforts and events. Prior to joining PolicyWorks, she spent nearly 10 years at the Greater Des Moines Partnership. Maldonado is a 2016 Forty Under 40 honoree, a member of Lead Like a Lady and a 2013 graduate of the Greater Des Moines Leadership Institute. She serves on the Community Connect Mentor Council, is a member of Variety's Polo on the Green committee and is part of the Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs Gala Committee.