**Editor’s note: The following is an excerpt from The Respect Effect: Leveraging Culture, Emotions and Neuroscience to Build a Better Business by Paul Meshanko.
Nowhere is the insidious creep of incivility and disrespect more apparent than in our political processes. And nowhere besides the workplace is the need for respect greater. What used to be subtle, ideological and/or philosophical differences have been replaced with stark, inflexible labels. What used to be known as political discourse and debate have been replaced with villainization, smear tactics and outright lying. While the short-term victims of the tactics of negativity are the decent candidates and ideas that fall victim to it, the long-term victims are “we the people.”
Research shows that negative political ads work amazingly well. They are effective because of how our brains process information.xv Negative messages are designed to evoke the powerful emotions of fear, anger and disdain, and attach them to a potential candidate or issue. A barrage of negative messages from multiple angles and toward numerous targets is emotionally draining and may cause people to disconnect from the political process. Rather than increasing participation in democracy, negativity and incivility actually threaten democracy and send it in a downward spiral.
Is there a place for critique and the healthy competition of ideas and ideologies that will determine the future of our countries? Of course there is. In fact, the bedrock of our democratic principles is our ability to present differing visions and priorities for our future. In the increasingly Darwinian environment of super PACs, almost limitless campaign contributions and 24/7 news coverage, the goal is for a candidate or position to win. As the political arena becomes progressively more uncivil, hopefully people will notice, grow tired of these tactics and simply tune out the messages of fear and anger.