As political polarization has gotten steadily worse over the last few election cycles, so too has political tension in the workplace. In the close quarters of a work environment, political differences, especially when combined with the pressures of work, have the potential to get out of control. Fewer than a quarter of employers have formal, written policies on political conversations in the workplace. So, it’s important to have an understanding of the management skills that can help you handle these conversations before they escalate into heated debates. We’ve put together some management communication tips to help you do that.
Stay Focused on Your Business Goals
First, stay focused on the goals of your business, your department, or the project you’re working on. Dale Carnegie suggested that every conversation should begin with an agreement — get the other person to say “Yes!” to something. In other words, stake out common ground. Ideally, your common ground will be your work — doing it effectively, meeting your goals, and delivering a quality product or service. But finding common ground also can be effective for managing political discussions, should they arise. Suggest a topic on which you and your coworker can agree. It may be protecting children or reducing crime. Coming to an agreement helps eliminate negativity and increases the opportunity for a calm and thoughtful discussion.
Operate within HR Guidelines
As a leader, set an example with your own behavior by keeping your opinions to yourself. What you may perceive as a benign comment — perhaps about a candidate’s age — may be viewed in a negative way by others. Operate within HR guidelines to address behavior that falls under rules regarding harassment, dress code (such as wearing political pins or clothing), or use of office equipment for personal activity, such as forwarding political emails.
Proselytization is NOT OK
Ensure that it’s clear that proselytization, or recruiting someone to join one’s party or cause, in the workplace is not acceptable. While it’s not illegal for managers to do so, it’s important to lead by example to help prevent political conflicts and create a culture where it’s understood that political discussions should be avoided.
Educate on the Effects
Educate employees on the effects of engaging in political conversations at work. Political disagreements can sour the relationship between coworkers and make it more difficult to work together. However, it may be unrealistic to expect that people who spend so much time together will never discuss politics, so help employees understand how to view such discussions as an opportunity to understand a different point of view, as opposed to trying to sway another person’s opinion. Consider scheduling professional development sessions to train employees on how to effectively manage political conversations.
Lead and Advise Your Employees
Advise employees to use discretion when broaching a political topic and to be mindful of HR guidelines. It’s important to be sensitive to social cues that can be indicators of a person’s political point of view. Employees should understand how HR policies apply to political discussions and be aware of possible consequences.
Hire an Outside Mediator
Finally, if tension escalates to the point where it’s affecting employees’ ability to do their jobs, consider hiring a facilitator or a mediator to help work things out. Mediation can help employees resolve disputes and gain a greater understanding of one another.
Political conversations in the workplace can be tricky territory to navigate. Don’t allow disagreements over politics to poison the work environment and interfere with productivity.