Talking Politics at Work

Recently, a client reached out to us regarding conflict management issues stemming from political disagreements between employees. As you can imagine, when two employees take opposite sides on a particular issue, not only will they be unlikely to change each other’s mind, it can quickly turn ugly.

Talking Politics? What to do?

It’s no question that if people are discussing politics at work, things are bound to get heated. Of course employees will say, “It’s a free country. We have freedom of speech and we can talk about what we believe in without persecution!” Yes, of course.

However, the key to navigating this mine field is ensuring employees remain respectful of their teammates while expressing their thoughts.

Easier said than done?

Keep the following points in mind when managing sticky conflict issues between employees, and you’ll be more likely to keep the peace:

  • Allow employees to voice what they believe in – don’t silence them or stifle their causes.
  • Demand that – no matter what the topic of conversation – all employees must treat each other with dignity and respect.
  • Explain that under no circumstance can any employee use discriminatory language while engaging in these conversations or bully someone for what they believe in. Not only is that illegal and a terminable offence, but it’s also a major morale and productivity drain.

Training to Handle Conflict

Training can also help employees avoid conflict from occurring in the first place.

If you have employees that can’t manage to communicate about these issues without getting angry and/or acting unprofessionally, you can empower them to excuse themselves from these conversations entirely. Tell employees it’s ok to say something like “We may have different beliefs on that, and this probably isn’t the best time or place to have a debate.” Or, “I’d rather not discuss something like that at work because it’s an emotional subject for me.” Once something like this is said, guide opposite parties to back away from the topic, change the subject, or walk away to give everyone some space.

Bottom line: It all comes down to mutual respect.

This includes respect for others’ view points and their various life experiences that have helped them formulate those ideals.

Rather than outlaw these types of discussions altogether, employers should encourage diversity of thought. Look at it as something to celebrate and acknowledge, provided it is handled with maturity and empathy. Continually reiterate how great is it that we can all come together to work towards a common purpose, but still maintain different opinions and beliefs.

That’s what this country is all about, after all.