The recent US elections might have been the most contentious ever. And strong feelings continue to abound. Even though the elections are over, many people are deeply worried about what will happen next. Each side was very concerned about what would happen if their candidate did not win. And now, half the voting population must deal with the impact of a president they did not want. As the president-elect makes decisions, strong feelings are likely to arise and possibly creep into your work conversations.
Are politics an elephant in the room?
Many people believe that it’s not a good idea to talk about politics at work. It is not necessary for work accomplishment, and they don’t want to risk getting into an irresolvable conflict that might undermine working relationships.
Others believe that since you spend the majority of your waking hours with your colleagues, it’s natural to want to discuss your thoughts and feelings with them. And since strong views are already present, trying to ignore them is like ignoring an elephant in the room.
Joseph Grenny, coauthor of Crucial Conversations, says that “learning to discuss politics productively can help you learn to manage other difficult conversations at work, including peer performance reviews or disagreements over strategy and policy.”
Whether to talk about politics at work is a personal choice that depends on many factors. But if you do decide you want to, these tips will help your conversations be more productive.
1. Don’t assume everyone shares your views.
Just because someone is not arguing with you does not mean they agree with you. One of the things the surprising election results shows is that what people say and what they really believe are not always the same. People may espouse a different view because they don’t feel comfortable sharing their real ones.
2. Create space and make it safe for people to have a different view than yours.
Set aside your desire to persuade others to change their views and instead listen with curiosity. Focus on developing a better understanding of their perspectives and their underlying hopes, fears, and values.
3. Consider their perspective objectively.
Is there any part you can relate to? You don’t have to agree, but can you understand why they hold that view? Are there any common concerns that you share?
4. Pause before you respond.
If you want someone to hear you, you must be willing to hear them. People are more likely to listen to you when they feel they have been heard. If what they said makes you angry, take a deep breath. Can you step out of the emotionality and respond from a rational place? If not, you might need to continue the conversation later.
5. Share your own personal concerns.
Speak for yourself, not others. Describe how you are affected by the situation. Share what you have observed. Be descriptive, not evaluative. Share information, not simply opinions. Avoid generalities and superlatives like everyone and always. Stay grounded. Remember what is most important and focus on that.
6. Know when to stop.
If communication has stalled or if you’re going in circles, repeating yourselves, it’s time to stop the conversation. End it with appreciation for the honesty that has been expressed and the intent to connect.
Essential Partners says the workplace can be tricky for conversations across political differences. Civility and caution should be a priority. Think of people with different views as a resource rather than roadblock – it’s an opportunity to learn from them about how other people think and experience the world. They offer these guidelines for workplace conversations:
|Tell them they are wrong||Ask them what value led them there|
|Ask how they could ever believe something||Ask when that belief first started for them|
|Interrupt people||Give a moment to make sure they are done|
|Say “yeah, but, what about…”||Try “Huh, interesting, tell me more…”|
|Assume you know their motives||Ask about their goals and hopes|
|Blame them for your anger or frustration||Explain your frustration and take responsibility for it|