How To Navigate Political Differences in the Workplace
By: Ranneme Abu-Hajar
It’s not shocking that the United States is still struggling with political polarization after the 2020 election with over 80% of Democrats, over 70% of Independents, and almost 70% of Republicans all agreeing that the nation is divided. Both sides of the political spectrum were also divided on the impact former President Donald Trump left on the nation with 49% of U.S adults believing that Donald Trump has done more to unite the nation opposed to the 45% of U.S adults who believe Donald Trump has actually done more to divide the nation. It is alarming to see the divisiveness and change of behavior and relationships due to political differences, but how has political differences affected the workplace, and how can team members navigate political differences in their workplace?
Most Americans have tuned into the news cycle over these past years whether it was due to the Trump administration, Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court nomination, the 2020 election, Covid-19, police brutality, and more, it has become rare to avoid conversations regarding politics in the workplace. According to the Harvard Business Review, 60% of American adults have claimed to engage in political discussions in the workplace. According to Human Resources company, Betterworks, since the 2016 election, 87% of employees have “read political social media posts at work” and 80% of employees have discussed politics with professional colleagues. It is difficult to avoid
discussions surrounding political topics, however it is possible to maintain an environment where employees feel respected and safe enough to voice their opinions. It is crucial to develop and maintain a workplace where political conversations are moderated to prevent a conversation turning into a heated argument. According to Betterworks, almost 50% of American adults have witnessed a political conversation turn into an argument in the workplace. In times of political polarizations, what managers do to act as a role model and maintain good employee connections is crucial for the productivity and culture of the workplace.
Managers cannot completely try to avoid political discussions, however there are some ground rules and practices to managers could implement into discussions:
1. Do Not Try To Ban Political Discussions
Even though the idea of banning conversations surrounding politics seems like a solution to prevent heated arguments, banning such conversations is impractical. Given that 60% of employees have claimed to participate in political conversations, it is difficult to avoid discussing political topics that seem to dominate the news cycle and individual’s lives. Banning certain topics of discussion could negatively impact work culture as well as make it seem that the manager is allowing for ignorance since many “political” topics involve concerns for human rights. Instead of banning conversations about politics, managers should be aware of how to manage these conversations and ensure they are insightful and productive conversations.
2. Do Not Force Political Talk in the Workplace
For many individuals, politics can be a frustrating topic that they want to avoid,
therefore in part to creating a safe workplace, the manager and team members should not force anyone into the conversation if they make it clear they are not interested in participating in the discussion. Forcing a team member into a non work related conversation, such as politics, could contribute to a toxic work culture and ruin team member relations to the workplace.
3. Encourage Understanding and Empathy
It is important to remember that there is a reason or experience that is involved in forming an individual’s political opinion(s). The reason or experience may even be very personal and a team member with an opposing political view may not understand because of lack of exposure to the other’s personal experience. Team members must
understand the other’s reasoning for their political opinions to be open minded during their conversation. Ensuring that team members can be empathetic towards another’s political view could contribute to a more productive conversation.
4. Set an Example and Do Not Allow Insensitive Comments
If a team member were to say an insensitive and offensive comment during a political conversation, it is crucial that the manager/team lead steps in and makes it clear to the individual and the team members that such comments are not allowed in the workplace. A manager needs to demonstrate to other team members that such insensitive comments will not be tolerated at work. After calling out the offensive comment, take the individual who made the hurtful comment aside and once again explain why such insensitive comments go against the positive culture and organization is trying to develop and will not be allowed in the workplace.
5. Set Up Ground Rules for Political Discussions
To ensure that political conversations stay productive and healthy, and prevent them from turning into heated arguments, ground rules must be established. When developing rules, there are really only two main aspects to prioritize: respect and understanding. Conversations become heated and unproductive when team members become caught up in proving the other wrong and someone resorts to making insensitive comments. To prevent such situations from occurring, set up rules where team members must respect and understand one another. Once respect and understanding is established, that then paves the way for a productive conversation about politics.
Politics can be a frustrating topic, and could damage the relationships between team members if not handled the right way by a manager or team lead. However, by establishing rules that encourage respect and empathy between team members and team leads, a conversation regarding politics could be productive and strengthen employee relations because of the trust and empathy built during political discussions.
https://www.forbes.com/sites/forbeshumanresourcescouncil/2021/02/02/11-helpful-st rategies-for-navigating-office-politics/?sh=55f4ed2d89b7 https://hbr.org/2020/10/managing-a-team-with-conflicting-political-views