Whether it’s proposing a new idea at work, sharing an opinion on social media, or trying to get buy-in from peers, people tend to share ideas that preach to the choir. Although you may get many like-minded followers, these ideas seldom move the conversation forward, lead to innovation, or invite people to expand their thinking. They don’t allow alternatives to emerge that could be more powerful, inclusive, and revolutionary than the original idea. Ultimately, they create walls instead of bridges. Instead, when we choose to take a risk and not preach to the choir, we open up a world of powerful possibilities.

Safety Amongst the Choir

There is comfort in preaching to the choir. We seldom have to risk opening ourselves to rejection, ridicule, or conflict. We get to be right about our ideas and have that righteousness validated by our peers who already agree with us.

Being in the choir means not having to change and step into the unknown. We don’t have to change our thinking, our identity, or our perception of the world. Although at times it’s important to seek solace and support amongst the choir, all too often people use it as a place to hide out and stay safe. Over time, people, organizations, and communities become stagnant, speaking to hear themselves talk while judging others on other sides of the fence.

This is common in organizations and shows up in ways such as:

  • Hiring primarily like-minded people
  • Rejecting ideas that challenge the organizational culture
  • Pigeonholing people with different points of view
  • Blending into the status-quo to gain acceptance or approval
  • Saying or doing the “right” things
  • Punishing mistakes and/or attempts at innovation
  • Nepotism and the “good ‘ol boy club”
  • Staying in your comfort zone

What changes when we only hang out with our choir? Unfortunately, not much.

Stepping Across the Divide

Stepping out of our comfort zone and not preaching to the choir can be terrifying, but it can also take us to new places. These places are full of untapped possibilities, potential, and rewards. The trick is being willing to take that step. Steps such as:

  • Having a conversation with someone who thinks differently than you (and actually listening to what they have to say)
  • Reaching out to strangers or people who you don’t know well, even if it’s just saying hello or meeting for coffee
  • Discussing an idea with a diverse group of people
  • Including people on your team who you know will bring different perspectives to the table
  • Asking questions and tapping into curiosity to discover why people feel, think, or act the way they do
  • Taking the risk to express an unpopular opinion or propose an idea

These actions likely won’t feel comfortable for you. They’ll require you to get out of your comfort zone and try new things, experience new people, and expose yourself to alternative ideas. They involve taking risks that challenge your identity, self-worth, and security.

Instead of resting in the comfort of your judgments and preconceived ideas of who other people are, you’ll actually have to find out the truth about other people. This might mean realizing how wrong we often are and how many assumptions we make that keep us separate and stuck. It’s no wonder we don’t try these strategies more often! Yet, this is where the power of not preaching to the choir comes into play.

Life Beyond the Choir

As I mentioned, there is life waiting beyond the choir. Consider some of the possibilities:

  • A senior manager had many ideas that ran counter to her executives and the company culture. For fear of being ridiculed and judged, she remained silent, went along with the status quo, and found many “reasonable” ways to rationalize why it wasn’t worth speaking up. When she realized that she’d want her people to share their ideas with her, even if they ran counter to her ideas, she saw how she was doing the company a disservice by not speaking up. The more she took the risk and stood strong to speak her mind, the more people began to consider alternatives to the norm. This opened the door for other people with similar viewpoints to come forward, and little by little the culture began to change.
  • I had an idea for a course I was developing and felt confident in the direction and content. Before moving too far forward, I presented my ideas to a diverse group of colleagues, who proceeded to come up with all kinds of different ideas and opinions. I resisted at first, unconvinced that they were right. As the conversation continued, however, I stayed open and engaged and eventually was able to see their points. In the end, the finished product was infinitely better than what I’d originally envisioned and could have produced on my own.
  • A colleague with strong viewpoints refused to consider any viewpoints that ran counter to his own around political and cultural issues. Instead, he made assumptions and judged people with opposing views, labeling them and putting them in an imaginary box. When I challenged him around his thinking, including presenting facts and stories that ran counter to his experience, he was surprised at possibilities that he hadn’t even considered. This opened him up to having actual conversations with people he usually kept at a distance, and even more to his surprise discovered a level of compassion, empathy, and likeness that he’d never thought possible. He was then able to form alliances by finding common ground and focusing on points of alignment instead of differences. These partnerships led to engaging a wider spectrum of people and coming up with ideas that actually made coming to work more fun and engaging.

Mingling With Other Choirs

Exposing yourself to new choirs is like building any muscle. It takes practice, persistence, and learning from mistakes until it becomes habit. Here are some questions to help build those muscles:

  • What fears, beliefs, or stories keep you from engaging with people who aren’t like you?
  • What are some of your strongly-held beliefs or opinions, and what are three alternative perspectives for each one that could also be true?
  • Who is someone you encounter regularly but hardly know, and how could you get to know them a little better?
  • Who wouldn’t you normally consider bouncing ideas off of that you could engage?
  • What group of people do you have opinions about but seldom interact with, and how can you connect for a conversation to learn more about someone in that group first-hand?