How to Navigate Political Disagreements at The Workplace

I’m sure you have heard a co-worker expressing their views on a political matter. Perhaps you’ve even been involved in a conversation about a divisive topic during your lunch break. Studies have shown that 80% of employees have discussed politics with colleagues. The reason is regardless of how involved we are, we all form an opinion about the world around us. Is there anyone who doesn’t have an opinion about vaccination, the Black Lives Matter movement, Roe v. Wade, or Depp vs. Heard?

Politics doesn’t only affect us as persons – it affects us as workers too. It can have a huge impact on our relationships, kick off job anxiety and increase the risk of depression.

There has been a great deal of social unrest over the past two pandemic-weary years and conversations about political issues tend to get more heated. So, to ensure optimal productivity and healthy team dynamics when viewpoints clash, as a manager you should have an efficient strategy for navigating political disagreements. 

Let’s see how you can make your employees feel safe enough to continue bringing their best to the table.

Political-free isn’t problem-free

Banning political talk at work may seem to be an obvious solution at first, but in fact, nothing could make things more counterproductive. Especially in election years.

Controlling what employees can say hurts the freedom of speech and team culture too. Happenings are on their minds anyway, so if they were told they can’t express their opinions publicly, you can lose their loyalty once and for all. 

And it doesn’t only apply to those who are angry, frustrated, or depressed. You’d be surprised how many people feel invisible at the workplace, and a political-free environment can make them think that their employer doesn’t listen to them.

Let them know that they can say what they have to say unless it’s offensive. But first, make sure your employee handbook clearly defines what is considered offensive.

Keep it professional

Your job as a leader is to make sure that the workplace is respectful and the environment is a safe place to talk:

  • Do your best to prevent disruptions. Practice empathy and try to understand where your employees come from.
  • Set an example by talking to your team in a supportive manner and showing respect.
  • Control the conversation. If you know that a team member’s opinion is likely to cause conflict, don’t let them articulate extreme opinions. I know that I’ve just said everyone should be allowed to speak freely, but when they seem to have strong political views, just be ready to prevent them from sparking heated debates. Recognize when a conversation is close to blowing up and call out inappropriate comments in a professional manner.
  • Don’t make it personal. You might have strong feelings for political beliefs but never forget that your employees might have too – and it can happen that they are from the opposite side. Keep in mind that we have different life experiences that influence our world views (Seth Godin: Marketers are Liars). Focus on the policy implications rather than your personal experiences.
  • Tell them to get back to work. While it’s not a good idea to sanction what they can say at the workplace, you can redirect them back to their tasks. Ask them to discuss it after work.

Establish positive communication

The key to having positive discussions with people who have different political opinions is taking the time to understand one another and trying to find common ground.

When you overhear a political conversation or get involved in one during teamwork, stay calm, listen carefully and answer honestly while staying 100% respectful. 

It is also important not to project your disagreement on the other person. While using “YOU” in employer branding is a powerful tool, communicating with “I” statements in the political scenario will help you navigate the conversation with less tension. Instead of “You supporting them is disappointing”, say “I think it isn’t a good idea, but it’s your decision”. Remember: you’re the one who sets the right tone for how your team members should treat each other.

Stay focused on team goals

Fostering a supportive team culture where all opinions are heard doesn’t mean everyone has to share their views with their co-workers. So don’t force it. They are there for the job, not for discussing politics.

Plus, voting decisions, for example, just like many other things, is personal. And some people simply don’t want to be involved in a political conversation. They want to avoid conflicts or they don’t want people other than their families and friends to know what they think.

Diverse teams make for the best environments

Diverse teams process facts more carefully, according to the Harvard Business Review. It means that they can outperform homogenous teams when it comes to decision making. Making smarter decisions on how to approach a political conversation at work, diverse groups can beat biases. So, if you’d like to make your business become more successful, strive to build diverse teams.

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