How to Find Group Unity Amidst Individual Disagreement

Making empathy and collaborative action more accessible in post-election America.

Parker Simon
Jan 30, 2017 · 11 min read

Ever have a different political opinion from someone you care about, but feel so upset that you can’t even talk with them? The American political process is intended to enable our collaboration, but it’s increasingly become a tool for divisive conflict on both sides of the aisle. Our mounting self-certainty and demonization of other viewpoints is undermining that very thing that unites us: our ability to harness disagreement and collaborate toward a brighter future.

America’s post-election fallout was epic. But the real problem isn’t political. It is social. Humans have a severe social blindness when they forget that in matters of opinion and experience, “you” are just another “I.” There was an urgent need to reveal the anatomy of opinion — at the individual and group level — to help people understand each others’ mindsets and make our motivations more transparent. Revealing this anatomy might demystify alternate points of view, help people more effectively communicate their own views, and offer common ground toward shared goals. The nature of this social breakdown had two core components: interpersonal communication and collaboration.

Last fall, we at Like Humans launched a tool called Voice ( to help groups in challenging times realize the path of unity in diversity rather than fighting for unity in uniformity. Voice’s digital experience facilitated deep self-reflection and visualized peoples’ thoughts to show their shared values, emotions, and desires. These insights were mailed in a report to President Trump and published online on Inauguration Day.

The following backstory shares our approach to this design challenge, the insights we discovered through the product experience, and implications for the future.

Quick Background: What is Like Humans?

Like Humans is a consultancy that helps transformative leaders align their organization with the intrinsic motivations of their team to increase engagement, productivity and profits. Tapping into the deeper potential of people and relationships is the quickest, most effective lever for generating big results, and we help organizations get there with a fresh approach to organizational development.

But in a broader sense, Like Humans operates as a kind of multi-faceted social lab — a platform for research-based products, services, and experiences to address the roots of human challenges. Improving the quality of human experience inspires our contribution toward progress, and quotes like this one from the 2016 Election season tell us it’s urgent:

“I am amazed, saddened and angry that people don’t realize that other people are people.” — Voice user

The Inner-Workings of Voice

Realizing unity within diversity.

Voice is an interactive survey tool with two key benefits for organizations:

1. A holistic design that enables every individual user to increase his/her own self-awareness, emotional balance, and human agency. Voice gives people the cue to have crucial conversations and collaborate at the group level with both respect and effective action.

2. Interactive, Qualitative Big Data revealing the deeply held worldviews and motivations of a social group. Voice is a material process for decoding human experience at scale, enabling a close-up view of far away issues and the mindset diversity within them.

What’s behind the product development?

A Design Perspective

As a problem solving approach, design thinking has the ability to “open up” new possibilities and outcomes rather than simply “close down” to the most efficient solutions. Solutions for social challenges need to consider the full spectrum of desired human outcomes, beyond the most “efficient” possibilities. But there also needs to be a way to effectively prioritize these human feelings. In a situation like this one – where a social group flares up into unconstructive divisions – how might we determine the common threads that unify peoples’ different perspectives?

Voice makes it possible to identify the group’s collective’s intentions by inviting individuals to honestly share their point of view, then tracing the patterns within the group. By creating a more transparent understanding of human motivations, Voice adds a new layer of information crucial to improving the design of social coordination.

A Nonviolent Communication Perspective

The user experience of Voice contains self and social communication techniques based on nonviolent communication. Violence, while a common form of human communication, is just not a healthy nor collaborative one. The fundamental idea of a democracy — like the United States––necessarily means trading others’ views and opinions rather than destroying them. Unfortunately, most common social conditioning trains us to communicate using a competitive win-lose stance rather than seeking win-win synergy. The implication here is simple: the quality of our communication directly relates to the quality of the world we’ll be able to build together.

Like Humans’ approach integrates nonviolent communication because it asks humans to share their point of view through mutual respect. Skeptics of nonviolence might assume that it is in some way “weaker,” less assertive or efficient. But in human behavior, violence only occurs as a result of low-quality communication tools. Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “A riot is the language of the unheard.” High-quality, respectful communication – which does take a little more effort – helps everyone put down their self-defense weapons and invites everyone into an experience of sharing, learning, and constructive action together.

A Qualitative Big Data Perspective

Social critic Neil Postman once wrote, “The way to be liberated from the constraining effects of any medium is to develop a perspective on it — how it works and what it does.” Voice exists to generate new perspectives on a culture by identifying its Human Desires: the core values-based motivations within the group. It displays both the macro and micro views of data that’s essential to helping everyone intentionally build a better culture.

At Like Humans, we use visualization methods with our organizational clients to enable leaders to directly see their culture. Leaders who hope to create system-wide change are at a great advantage when they can explicitly understand the higher-level picture of motivations and values that are present in the psychology of human groups. “Change is hard” happens when leadership asks for change without an understanding of how people are intrinsically aligned to supporting those changes.

The Insights of a Social Situation, Revealed by Voice

We invited Americans of all backgrounds to try Voice. This particular situation (Post-Election, November 17 — December 23) included 169 voluntary participants across age (under 18 — over 70), gender, political party affiliation, and region (nationwide and international). A lot of people were desperate for a way to vent their feelings. Some were seeking guidance for taking constructive action. Others just wanted a way to have a civil conversation with family members on the “opposite side.”

We approached social analysis by focusing on the subjective human experience to more closely estimate what individual people were perceiving as “true.” The three key categories of data were: Emotions, Human Values, and Human Desires.


Emotions are sensations that arise in the body in response to sub-conscious assessment of whether one’s values are being met. Positive emotions like happiness, excitement, and comfort indicate a state of perceived values alignment. Negative emotions like sadness, anger, and anxiety indicate values misalignment. By inquiring deeply into negative emotion, individuals can clarify and work toward their values.

The top emotions (% of total) in this Voice were:

Anxiety (12%)

Fear (11%)

Anger (9%)

Despair (9%)

Sadness (8%)

Contempt (7%)

While there was a general trend of negative emotion, there was an interesting range of situational components triggering those negative emotions — from Trump’s own personality to the feeling of being judged negatively by others because of one’s own political views. This spanned across political affiliations:

“I am scared of what this election represents; I’m not concerned about the discord in America or the misunderstandings that abound between political parties. I am horrified by the fact that the figure we have elected to represent us represents a wide variety of moral failings. I teach students who learned what ‘pussy’ means this year, and now they are looking up to a man who has been hailed by some as a leader, and who demonstrates that it is a-okay to do as you please and act entitled and bigoted.” — Voice user

“While Trump is an asshole, Clinton is a crook. I’m very offended to be characterized as a racist, misogynist xenophobe with less education who is either a bad person or misled.” — Voice user

Human Values

Human Values are the descriptors of what matters most to a person; how an individual defines the experiences he or she would most like to experience or avoid. They are mental constructs about the worth or importance of people, concepts, activities, or things. Their deeply seated position in human psychology means that Human Values offer a universal language to describe the qualities of human experience. When we aren’t aware of the Human Values in play, we proceed with a social blindness.

At Like Humans, we help organizations clarify their Human Values and align their organizational strategies with them. When a human group understands the values that bring its members together, it can align to a shared mission that is engaging and meaningful for each member. In this situation, we applied our approach to the organization formally known as The United States of America.

The top Human Values (% of total) in this Voice were:

Human Dignity (29%)

Equality (15%)

Global Sustainability (8%)

Truth (7%)

Global Harmony (7%)

Knowledge + Insight (6%)

“Human dignity to me means that every person has a right to their own freedom, to exist on their own terms, to be themselves without undue obstruction, and to exist in a world where they can be honored, respected, and live fully to their fullest potential. Human dignity to me means having an awareness of the needs, desires, values, perspectives, and multiplicity of selves that exist among all people. And it means respecting this diversity and difference, understanding with deep humility that one cannot and will not understand all sides, and making a decision to live according to one’s own values and incomplete knowledge while respecting the right of others to pursue and live according to their own perspectives, wishes, desires, etc.” — Voice user

“Equality means that each and every human being, regardless of race, gender, religion, sexual orientation or socio-economic background is allowed the same rights and opportunities to achieve their potential and live freely and without harm.” — Voice user

Human Desires

Human Desires are the top patterns identified from participants’ requests for change. In this post-election Voice, Human Desires included requests of President Trump, requests of other citizens, and commitments to personal action. Human Desires offer concrete, values-based paths for creating co-designed social change.

Change comes from all directions, in all shapes and sizes. We invited people’s requests for change at all levels (of upper leadership, of surrounding partners, and of self) to inspire a wide range of possible actions for improving the quality of human experience within the entire “organization.” This approach is how we step beyond incremental tweaks to facilitate systemic change.

The top Human Desires in this Voice were:

Improve the quality of dialogue

Improve the depth of awareness and value of another

Increase citizens’ social action

Reduce violent attitudes

Improve the practice of determining legitimate information

Reduce environmental impact

Identifying Human Desires was a key solution to addressing the issue of broken communication. We illustrated Human Desires in the most politically-neutral perspective possible, highlighting what people value rather than what political parties value. By evading the divisive language and pre-existing dogmas of political parties, Human Desires invite everyone to talk about the commonly desired social changes. Some Human Desires are immediately accessible (“Speak more respectfully”) while others are deep shifts in our approach to society (“Improve the practice of determining legitimate information”) and orientation to life itself (“To look past race, religion, gender, and ethnicity and treat each other with dignity. That we judge someone by what’s in their head, and don’t let prejudice lead the way.”) There is no room for Human Desires to shame opposite perspectives; they serve to unify social movement toward co-designing a better world, together.

Human Desires enable us to develop thematic, values-based questions to launch people into possibilities for creating a better world (Download Here):

The Human Desires co-design opportunities from the 2016 American Presidential Election

Implications: The Purpose of a Nation

Shared purpose is an integral aspect of effective organizations. Purpose is the combination of Strengths (What skills and knowledge?), Passions (What path motivates us?), Ideals (What are our hopes for the world?), and Value Creation (What impact are we having?) as a way to develop oneself and serve the world. When purpose is the governing force of an organization’s orbit, it creates synchronicity across previously disparate disciplines.

Does America have a Purpose in 2017? If so, what might it be?

America is a unique place: a young nation woven with the threads of successful immigrants. As the modern world’s “melting pot,” is America’s opportunity the task of achieving unity in diversity? Could it be that America’s Purpose is to find out what’s common to all races in order to prove their fundamental unity?

The 21st Century is not one of great walls, but of Google Earth. Today’s globalized, technologized society is built on interconnected diversity. As the writer Rabindranath Tagore saw this in his book, Nationalism:

“The most important fact of the present age is that all the different races of men have come close together. And again we are confronted with two alternatives. The problem is whether the different groups of peoples shall go on fighting with one another or find out some true basis of reconciliation and mutual help; whether it will be interminable competition or cooperation.”

Just as it has repeatedly done in its vibrant history, America’s challenge today is to develop a society that can cope with — in fact, thrive on — difference.

How might political narratives become more resonant?

Thinking ahead, how might we help our political leaders develop more inclusive social visions and messages?

Elected officials from all perspectives have an obligation to express something greater than an individual’s personality: they have the responsibility of representing the public’s voice in government policy. What if politicians aspired to a new level of conversation: one rooted in the expression of Human Values, offering clear strategies for people of different viewpoints to collaborate towards them?

Like Humans was particularly inspired by the voice of this citizen:

“If I were truly emotive, I would say that I feel…simultaneously hopeful, apathetic, surprised, curious, nauseous, inspired, grateful, privileged and ready for action. There are voices that haven’t been heard and it is our responsibility to effectively engage with one another to inspire positive, sustainable change.” — Voice user

As we continue teaching ourselves about creating a better society, how will we shape history? Making America Great, as the 2016 Election championed, might be a good outcome. But at the heart, we offer a different proposal: live your Human Values, respect others’, and Make the Present Significant.

You can explore the full Voice: 2016 American Presidential Election Insights Report at

Have feedback, commentary, or thoughts for us? We’d love to share a conversation with you. Leave us a comment, get in touch at, or @likehumans on Twitter.

Want to Get the Voice of Your Organization?

We offer Voice for tailored applications such as organizational change, interpersonal and collaborative development, social sentiment analysis, strategic communication, and decision-making.

If you are interested in learning about using Voice, please contact us at

work like humans

Building the Human Organization with Like Humans