POLITICS IN THE WORKPLACE

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

Do

  1. 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.
  2. 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.”
  3. 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.

  1. 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.

Don’t

  1. 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.”

  1. 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.
  2. 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
https://www.linkedin.com/in/takiyah-cunningham/

 



Navigating Courageous Conversations


2020 is a year that no one expected.  Octavia E. Butler, M. Knight Shyamalan, Stephen King or Jordan Peele could not have created a screenplay that encompasses the upheaval, uneasiness and confusion the world is experiencing.  As we continue to adjust to minimal human interaction while sustaining our businesses, there is a backdrop of social issues plaguing society. As a result, unspoken lines are being drawn based on instances of microaggressions, unequitable pay and fear of authenticity in the workplace. To create spaces that are truly inclusive, we must seek to truly understand, stop overlooking negative behavior and become accustomed to being uncomfortable by engaging in courageous conversations.

These Conversations Are Important

The ability to have conversations that are forthright or courageous is a dynamic tool and especially effective in the workplace. The engagement opportunities can be used to motivate, engage and educate. Unfortunately, this skillset is not one that is emphasized in job descriptions or KPIs. According to a report by Coaching at Work, 2018, a whopping 90% of managers and leaders do not address poor performance or difficult behavior effectively. Of these 90%, 70% are either unable or unwilling to have the courageous conversation needed to address the issue. When delving even more deeply, the research found that 20% of managers and leaders are unable to have the conversation without using an aggressive style, while only 10% are actually having conversations with clarity, purpose and a style that engages rather than blames or shames the other. These conversations require resilience, bravery, honesty and empathy.  Because it is in our nature to seek comfort, these interactions are avoided therefore allowing discord to fester.

Hot Topics with a Formulated Approach

Allison was one of two African- American women on the leadership team.  She and the other

African- American woman are consistently being confused with each other by the division executive.  Allison, who resents not being valued as an individual, recognizes this as an opportunity to have a conversation with the executive to discuss the importance of receiving respect in the workplace. 

 

Preparation is key as these conversations can be stressful.  This is an opportunity to take your leadership to the next level, no matter your formal title in the organization.  The goal is to address the proverbial elephant in the room while clearly articulating your position, listening and proposing solutions.

Don’t Delay- When a situation arises that requires a courageous conversation, act fast. Avoidance increases resentment and inhibits trust, open communication, innovation and production.

Intention- When preparing for a difficult conversation, be sure to focus on the matter and check your “feelings”.  If you start to get defensive, change your mindset and focus on growth and clarity by clearly stating boundaries and values

Location- Be intentional about creating a “safe” space.  This includes a neutral meeting space, setting ground rules and having body language that is open and receptive.

Have Grace- The purpose of this conversation is not to demean or exert your power. Do not resort to petty insults, as this will reduce your credibility and the message will be lost. Always meet people where they are.

The Outcome

Immediately following the most recent incident, Allision sends an invitation for coffee and indicated that there is a matter she would like to discuss. Next, Allison takes the time to create talking points for reference. She also practices the scenario and possible responses/reactions she might receive.  At the meeting, Allison states the issue while making sure her posture is open and welcoming. She also performs regular check-ins throughout the conversation to confirm that she is clearly articulating her message. Though obvious that the executive is initially uncomfortable, as the dialogue continues, the two reach a deeper understanding of each other and the importance of respect in the workplace. 

 

Takiyah Cunningham, M.S. HRD

https://www.linkedin.com/in/takiyah-cunningham/

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