Politics has become a lightning rod of division and misunderstanding in workplaces around the globe, and particularly here in the US. This article discusses ways of facilitating discussions that improve the quality of civil discourse.
Here in the US, it seems we stand at a crossroads. With toxic political polarization soaring and an election mere weeks away, it’s inevitable that workplaces will become venting grounds for pent up emotions. Civil discourse between people with differing views could well destroy the harmony necessary for any business to function smoothly and successfully. Given all the broadsides that the pandemic has already wrought on many businesses, having a plan to deal with such conversations is a must.
Fortunately, there are some good resources out there to help HR and business leaders facilitate productive conversations around thorny political issues. In a recent Harvard Business Review article, Bob Feldman, writes, “The events of 2020, from the pandemic to the spotlight on racial injustice, make clear that business leaders must now step up to help bridge the divide.” Feldman cites a number of tactics that leaders can use to begin productive conversations among people with differing views. These include:
- Messaging from the CEO that acknowledges the challenging times ahead and encourages employees to take the high road, commit to mutual respect, a harmonious workplace and a refocus on corporate values.
- Have HR provide guidance to your organization’s managers on discussion facilitation. There are many tools to help them do this, including the case studies at the Dialogue Project and the Handbook for Facilitating Difficult Conversations in the Classroom.
- Encourage managers throughout your organization to re-iterate the CEO’s message.
- Discourage election pools & political banter. Do so in a non-censorious manner by making clear the goal is to avoid hurtful and aggressive language.
- Encourage everyone to vote.
- Model the behavior you hope to see in others.
Time for Change
Given this particular point in time, I definitely see the value in the above suggestions. Going forward, however, I believe it would be useful to remove the terms of left or right, liberal or conservative, Democrat or Republican. Instead, a focus on values and on those things that matter most would have a much better chance of illustrating our common humanity, and a way forward. Having been involved in political parties on both sides of the spectrum, I am now firmly committed to none. Politics provides labels and labels are a big part of what divides us. Assumptions are made and distrust amplified.
When working with divided teams, drawing on common goals and values has the best chance of bringing forward a sense of mutual understanding, respect, and humanity. Now more than ever, we need to employ every effort for people to identify bridges instead of canyons.
As Feldman believes and as do I, the events of 2020, from the pandemic to the conspicuous reality of racial injustice, make it imperative that business leaders step up to help bridge the divide. Our businesses, and indeed our ideas of a peaceful and equitable society, may depend on it.
HI Doug – Thanks for this. I enjoyed reading this blog and think the points made can be really helpful in today’s work world, in any country. I would add a 7th tip and that is ‘be curious’, asking open questions (begin with who, what, where, when, how) to explore and discover possibility that can lead to common ground. I agree listening to others is super important and then asking open questions ensures we gain clarity, testing assumptions that inevitably creep into our conversations.
Research that looks at the neuroscience of collaboration shows us that when we ask an open question, dopamine is released and with a 2nd open question, we have a heart-mind opening that leads to the release of oxytocin as well. We begin to feel good. Clients have shared with us the same experience when they become curious during difficult conversations when conflict can close down conversations, limiting the exploration of common ground. Curious creates possibility and leads to that discovery of common ground, so necessary in finding a way forward that works for everyone.