How to Have The Political Debate at Work

Last week, the world witnessed the inauguration of the 45th President of The United States, Donald Trump and the following day we saw a historic amount of men and women participate in the Womens March (over 5 million worldwide & 1 million in DC alone!). If you observed both events, it was clear that the themes of both were diametrically opposite to each other. In other words, the juxtaposition of these events painted an accurate picture of how divided our world is right now. This division not only extends to our personal lives but it also extends to our professional lives. So how can we have the political discussion at work?

Don’t Look to Convert, Look to Understand: This is very tough especially for someone like me who is so activist driven but I have found that productive conversations about divisive politics only move forward when we seek to understand why people think the way they do. So ask questions like “can you explain to me why you feel like this about this situation?”. If it is a contentious subject, try saying something like, “while I don’t agree, i’m curious to learn more about what it is you think I am missing”.  Your chances of converting someone to your side is slim to none so don’t send them articles that confirm your way of thinking. That only creates a back and forth that isn’t productive for anyone.

Remember the goal here is not to convert, rather to understand. Acknowledge the disagreement and immediately follow up with a commonality. Something like, “at least we agree on one thing and that is the improvement of our nation”.

Speak Your Truth Without Demonizing: The next point I want to make is the idea of speaking your truth. The key to having an inclusive work environment is making it safe for all involved to be themselves. You can’t have that environment if your colleagues are constantly walking on egg shells or censoring themselves. Encourage your team members to talk about the issues that are important to them. If you’re a team leader, have a meeting with your team and acknowledge the political tension that exists. Express to them that you want them to be able to say what’s on their mind. The only rule is that they be civil and that no demonizing occurs. I recently went through this exercise with one of my clients and it was amazing to see the amount of walls that came down through the exercise. A lot of people felt like they would be fired if they expressed their opinions. Some felt that they wouldn’t be accepted because of their orientations and views. It definitely got heated at times but the most important thing was that the team as a whole acknowledged the elephant that had been in the room for a while. This acknowledgement led to some break throughs. Acknowledgement can lead to acceptance if you create an open environment that allows freedom of expression.

A political election usually happens once every four years and you usually go to work five days a week for most of the year so it is more important to know how to have open conversations with people you see almost everyday rather than about someone you might never meet.

Leaders in companies need to be open to acknowledging divides and creating forums for these disagreements to be aired out.

“Rome Wasn’t Built in a Day, But They Were Laying Bricks Every Hour”

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