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Management: Talking Politics At Work
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Management: Talking Politics At Work - Executive Leadership Articles

Management: Talking Politics At Work

Executive Leadership Articles

Management: Talking Politics At Work

Religion and politics are, according to the conventional wisdom, two things you never talk about in polite company. This is one reason we all spend so much time talking about the weather. Nobody gets offended by weather talk, and although we all experience weather, and we all have something at stake, there’s very little chance that someone will say something hurtful about it.

Yet talking about the weather is vapid. Conversation about rain or wind seldom reveals anything about our values, and it’s nearly impossible to make connections with people over weather. This is probably why so many of us can’t resist a good conversation about it. When we talk politics, we get right down to what matters most to us: our families, freedoms, and futures. Connecting with someone who agrees with us on political issues is almost an immediate bond; debating with those who don’t can often have the same effect, given participants with the right temperament.

But talk about a minefield. Most of us aren’t willing to traverse it, at least not openly. It doesn’t take long for people to get a sense of each other’s politics without ever really bringing it up, so the cautious employee might broach the subject in little, one-on-one moments, little social feelers to see what’s okay to talk about and what’s not. Otherwise, many of us simply keep our political thoughts to ourselves. We do it about all manner of personal topics, so it’s really not a stretch to keep politics on the do-not-discuss list.

As a manager, there’s a fine and delicate balance to seek when it comes to discussion topics. Issuing a blanket moratorium on talking politics is likely to cause more problems that it solves, because “politics” is a gigantic topic, and people who feel targeted by a topics-ban are likely to find all kinds of inconsistencies: “Why is it okay for Fred to talk about banning cigarettes from public places, but not okay for me to talk about preserving gun rights guaranteed by the constitution?”

You don’t want to get involved in these topic-by-topic clearances.

A directive to keep conversations in meetings to the business at hand, however, is not a bad step, and politics may come up in such conversations while they’re relevant. This seems fair, and in the formal setting of a meeting, people are more likely (with your guidance, if necessary), to keep things civil and focused.

An article by the Society for Human Resource Management reminds us that we can’t prohibit political conversation: “Where employers have to be cautious is not ... to squash political speech just because somebody might find it objectionable. We have to be cautious, as employers, not to do things that restrict free speech, which the [National Labor Relations Board] says is protected activity.”

SHRM suggests a few ways to keep the peace at work, such as “setting the tone from the top by making sure managers respect the views of others,” and to encourage “in-person interaction,” which is less likely to be misunderstood and more likely to be tolerated.

Most important, and it applies to any topic in almost any setting, is to “establish a culture of civility.” Anything threatening (or crossing the line of) civility must be cooled off immediately. A workplace where respect for one another’s ideas and feelings is part of the culture can survive even the most divisive political differences if coworkers respect and value each other as people. Our differences can and should be celebrated; we should never allow them to destroy our relationships.

Reference Link:
SHRM: https://www.shrm.org/ResourcesAndTools/hr-topics/employee-relations/Pages/office-politics.aspx


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Management: Talking Politics At Work - Executive Leadership Articles

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