Finding Common Ground in Unlikely Places

Thursday, February 8th, 2007

Yesterday, a coalition of industry, unions, and others announced that they joined forces to work on finding a way to provide affordable healthcare for all Americans. The most noteworthy partners in this were Wal-Mart and SEIU (Service Employees International Union). Who knew that they could sit down at a table and work on issues together?

Too often we miss opportunities to solve problems because we can’t see past our differences. So Wal-Mart and SEIU deserve applause for this effort. It must have been hard to do.

In many organizations opinions about “that other group” are so calcified that it is almost impossible to even realize that “that other group” might be concerned about the same things we are. Union versus management. Field versus headquarters. Department versus department. The list goes on. 

But Wal-Mart and SEIU should give us hope. If they can do it one major issue, perhaps we can as well. 

I recall that John Sweeney (head of AFL-CIO) met with corporate leaders to talk about issues that were of common concern. These conversations took place apart from contract negotiations, making it easier for both parties to just sit and talk. And I think that is key. The need to posture and protect can be relaxed a little bit, and sometimes a little bit is sufficient to find common ground.