As we prepare to round out the year, I think it’s safe to say that we have learned a lot about human nature over the past months. We’ve experienced a lot and are fervently working to ensure that our work environments are successful. This includes staying abreast of workplace trends and I’ve noticed that topics that were once taboo in the workplace have become more prevalent. A question I receive from managers is “How to address politics in the workplace?” As we attempt to move beyond the 2020 presidential election, inevitably, there will be perceived division, lingering feelings, thoughts and reactions that if left to fester, could have unwanted implications.
According to Diversity Best Practices, SHRM’s 2019 Politics at Work survey found political conversations in the workplace are increasing and causing conflict among employees:
56 percent of employees say the discussion of political issues has become more common in the past four years
44 percent have witnessed political disagreements in the workplace
42 percent have personally experienced political disagreements in the workplace
34 percent say their workplace is not inclusive of differing political perspectives
12 percent of employees have personally experienced political affiliation bias
Courageous Conversations in the Workplace
A suggestion is to have frank discussions around some of the issues causing discord in the workplace. However, it is not the easiest or most comfortable response. We spend more waking hours engaging with our work colleagues than we do our families. It is an interesting dichotomy, because we are expected to be innovative, inclusive and productive in the workplace. However, working with individuals with differing experiences and opinions can become contentious. This can be especially true during highly volatile periods in society such as presidential elections. When opinions are shared in an unproductive manner, such as negative body language, attire that demonstrates support for any political party and negative comments, it becomes a much larger problem that affects morale and productivity.
Proactively creating a safe space for authentic conversations can be helpful. This can be demonstrated by allowing employees the opportunity to understand that it is okay to disagree with each other, while making it clear that civility and respect for others are not negotiable in the workplace. It also positions HR and other leaders to create equitable policies and procedures concerning trends and issues that are revealed during the sessions.
Creating an environment for courageous conversations require a plan of action, as open dialogue about divisive topics can take a negative turn pretty quickly. These types of forums must have the right person or team of people to effectively guide the process in a way that diffuses conflict as it arises. These are individuals who are aware of their personal biases and can move past them, have proven facilitation skills and if they are internal, have earned a high level of trust within the organization. At the end of the sessions, the goal is to have positive changes to workplace behavior.
Below are additional tools and suggestions for addressing politics in the workplace from Glassdoor.com
Know Your Audience. Before launching into a conversation about politics at work, it’s best to do a check-in with those around you to see if your colleagues are willing to have a light conversation. Get a clear sense of who you’re engaging with and make the conversation optional.
Engage in Curious Dialogue Approach the conversation with genuine curiosity, instead of looking for an argument. If you’re trying to start a conversation with a colleague whose perspective you know to be different than your own, come from a place of curiosity. Consider saying, “I know we’re probably on opposite sides of the issue, and I’m really curious about what you think.”
Politely Leave Tense Conversations If you are wary of political conversations or if you sense that a conversation is veering off course, it’s important to have a palette of language that you can use to exit conversations you don’t want to participate in. Consider saying, “I’ve put myself on a news break. I need to step away sometimes as it’s refreshing to get a hiatus.” Alternatively, you can say, “This is an important conversation, but I’m not sure it’s right for me.”
Politely leave conversations that you don’t want to be involved in, and respect others’ needs as well, especially if you know that a colleague is not open to these kinds of conversations. Respect is the key to making this work.
Focus On Common Ground While you and your co-workers may not always agree on politics, you probably have core values that you share. Get back to those basics that bind you together. While you may not agree on the party or candidate that you support, you may find common ground on your shared support of Veterans, for example. Work with your colleagues on a project that reminds you that you’re all in this together. Because, despite your differences, you are.
Allow Derogatory or Disrespectful Comments Politics can be a very hot topic this year, however, it is completely possible to have a conversation that is respectful and honest without it becoming nasty. If you are going to engage in a political conversation at work, keep the conversation respectful and do not engage in slander, derogatory language or disrespectful comments.
If a disagreement turns into personalized attacks, the best course of action is to try saying something like, “The tone of the conversation is not appropriate for work and it’s no longer heading in a good direction. Let’s get back to work.”
Use Work Communication Tools to Promote Your Political Beliefs In the era of Slack, Google Hangouts and Jive, it can be easy to share an article about the upcoming election or your favorite (or not so favorite) candidate. However, this can be problematic for your colleagues. Creating a safe and secure work environment is paramount, and political conversations on the company Slack channel can make team members feel alienated or attacked.
Demonize the Opposing Views Politics can be very personal, and many people tend to hold tight to their beliefs. However, when emotions run high it’s imperative not to demean or vilify those who may hold views that differ from yours. There are consequences to alienating your colleagues who you work with every day. After all, any conversation or behavior that distracts from productivity and cohesion doesn’t belong at the office.
As leaders, we must have tenacity for creating inclusive and equitable work environments, continue to persevere and not settle for complacency. This is especially true when we’ve made the decision to accept the messiness and discomfort of embracing and leveraging differences. Determination is a requirement for success, let’s demonstrate in every area of our work.
Takiyah Cunningham, M.S. HRD