How Should You Handle Political Discussions in the Workplace?

Political conversations in the workplace are inevitable. Here are ways business leaders can create a safe space for healthy dialogue and productive disagreements at work.

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political discussions in the workplace

Political discussion in the workplace can be a touchy subject for people. When having these conversations, there are a few things to remember to maintain a positive and productive work environment.

Some companies argue that a “no-politics” policy is best and employees have a job to do. However, politics is a part of American life, and it would be unrealistic to expect otherwise. Business leaders should create a safe place for employees to engage in healthy dialogues.

You don’t need to win to have a good political discussion

Make it a point in the office or online that neither party should aim to win when talking politics. If each person enters the discussion hoping to learn something new, it removes the need to listen intently only to refute the other person’s point of view.

If you’re waiting until your colleague finishes speaking to respond, you’re not actively listening. Instead, listen carefully, answer honestly and respectfully, and know your ideas well enough to discuss positively with people who think differently.

Listen carefully, answer honestly and respectfully, and know your ideas well enough to discuss positively with people who think differently.

Be OK with discomfort, and be willing to grow

Politics can be toxic in the workplace, but listening and understanding where your colleagues are coming from can help prevent conflict. When chatting with colleagues, remember to practice empathy — even if you don’t share their views.

It’s OK when others don’t share our perspective but if employees remain unwilling to yield, they won’t see or understand the other side of any argument. You have to be willing to listen to opposing views and even affirm their importance. This is tremendously challenging in our current partisanship-fueled culture.

Stepping outside of our comfort zone is where we experience the most growth. By engaging with someone who doesn’t confirm our biases, we stretch our worldview. Encourage employees to approach disagreements with an open mind and a willingness to listen; you’re more likely to find common ground among employees who walk away from the conversation knowing something new about their colleagues.

Keep your opinions guarded if you know they will cause conflict

Opinions are like fingerprints, and everyone has them. Not everyone falls in the middle of the spectrum. Suppose employees are known to have strong political views far from the center. In that case, it might be a good idea to remind them not to voice their extreme opinions or show support of candidates who come across as controversial.

The law protects freedom of speech, but it doesn’t mean wearing one’s political opinions like a badge carries no consequences.

No, it’s never easy to bite one’s tongue, but it’s the best thing to do in some situations. While every employee is entitled to their views, they should be mindful that not everyone will agree. Although the line between opinion and harassment may appear blurred, the law has clarified the difference. Yes, the law protects freedom of speech, but it doesn’t mean wearing one’s political opinions like a badge carries no consequences. Let employees know the limits of workplace politics to ensure no harsh words or taunting happen now or in the future.

Try not to get overzealous – no one wants to deal with an angry coworker

When it comes to politics in the workplace, it’s essential to try not to get too heated up. It can be easy to start arguing with coworkers about who’s right and who’s wrong, but in the end, it just causes tension and makes everyone uncomfortable. While it’s easy to demonize those who don’t share our views, this makes productive dialogue impossible.

No one wants to deal with an angry coworker, so when you hear abusive language (even about a political candidate), let employees know that there are consequences for using such language. Then, it’s time to end the discussion. The last thing you want from a work discussion is for a fight to break out. Urge employees to keep it cool and maintain a constructive relationship with others in the workplace, even when they disagree. As a result, you’ll create a positive culture and achieve more as a team.

Avoid hot-button issues

Issues linked to religion, morality, or controversial issues tend to be divisive and often lead to tension in the office. If employees feel inclined to discuss something sensitive, ask them to do it away from the water cooler or outside the Zoom breakout room. Instead tell employees to find someplace private.

Suggest talking about specific policies instead of employees making generalizations. When tensions run high, let the office be a place where it is allowed to halt the conversation or change the subject. Steer clear of controversial topics and keep the peace in your workplace.

Don’t let employees gloat

After an election or a considerable debate, no one likes a showoff, especially an exuberant employee. Lynn Taylor, a workplace expert and author of “Tame Your Terrible Office Tyrant,” says gloating puts others down, is unproductive, and creates an us-vs-them mentality.

Do not tolerate bragging, and on days following a critical election or when emotions run high, keep employees focused on workplace tasks and away from politics.

Know when to walk away

Be mindful of when and how to engage in political discussions in the workplace. It can be easy to get carried away but remember there are boundaries. Take notice when political discussions in the workplace become overheated and if it’s time to walk away from a conversation.

It is up to each individual to decide what is appropriate in their workplace. But suggest employees err on the side of caution. It’s better to keep the peace in the office and avoid any potential conflict.

There are instances where lines must be drawn or when an exchange has run its course. However, productive disagreements do have their merits as participants often come out of these conversations with more “nuanced, deeper insights and stronger solutions.” While it might be easier from a business owner’s perspective to limit the politically different ideas of exchange, workplaces that encourage peaceful, lively debates will be all the better for it.

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