Time to Rebuild: 7 Ways to Support Political Dialogue at Work
Now that the election has happened, the aftermath of anger and resentment that can tear your team apart need to be addressed. Here we discuss and offer resources to support the discussions that will need to be had.
This has been an especially divisive election season after an especially divisive four years. As hinted at by the US President prior to the election, he appears to be unwilling to concede an election he has now clearly lost. So instead of a smooth transition of power, it appears that the divisiveness may continue unimpeded. It is highly likely that the lingering resentments will spill over into the workplace. Companies could well face the prospect of rising turbulence amongst their teams. As Bob Feldman warns in a recent article in Harvard Business Review, “Anxiety, fear, anger, and frustration will boil over in ways managers can’t afford to ignore.”
How to Get the Conversation Going
Fortunately, there are some good resources available. The Better Arguments Project is a national civic initiative that encourages and supports dialogue around controversial topics. Boston-based journalist and Wesleyan University lecturer Rebecca Knight offers a number of practical strategies along with case studies of their applications to illustrate their impact. Raina Brands, Ph.D., an assistant professor of organizational behavior at the London Business School also offers several useful tactics to encourage successful dialogue around contentious political issues.
Another great resource is the Dialogue Project. This is a global study of how business can improve civil discourse and reduce polarization in our society. Feldman cites seven recommendations, drawn from Dialogue Project research, that can help managers and leaders navigate the challenges of a protracted post-election-day conflict:
- Do not remain silent — communicate. The election and its aftermath will be the elephant in the room. It will need to be addressed.
- Acknowledge the difficulty. The most effective initiatives on civil discourse begin with an admission that these conversations may be difficult. Acknowledge that people feel passionately about these issues, and that it can sometimes be difficult to rein in that passion or for someone to hear contrasting views that they believe differ not only on policy but on core values.
- Listen actively. Each person has a responsibility to be an active listener and respectful of others. It’s important to remind people to speak from their own experiences and not to speak for others or for an entire group.
- Model desired behavior. Remember that in times of stress employees carefully watch the words and actions of leaders. Even the casual banter that often precedes in-person or virtual meetings will be scrutinized. Leaders finding themselves in passionate discussions should speak briefly, resist the desire to interrupt, share the conversation time equitably, and emphasize areas of common ground.
- Show leadership through empathy. Post-election, and likely for many weeks and months, there will remain a need to showcase the softer skills of leadership. Empathize with the challenge we all may face to keep our cool as post-election conflict escalates to its climax.
- Resist the temptation to be the office pundit. Social media and cable news have turned us all into amateur pundits. But holding forth at work with your own predictions and analysis, tempting as the daily drama may make it, will lead others to make inferences about you that may be unhelpful and raise, rather than lower, the political temperature. This may be difficult to avoid entirely if you are in a business that may be significantly affected by the outcome of the election or by the uncertainty itself. But it should be minimized by leaders at all levels.
- Reiterate core values. Depending on how the situation plays out, and especially if there is any kind of civil unrest, it may also be helpful to reiterate company policies regarding harassment, bullying, and so on, and remind people of the importance of not allowing political differences to become disruptive or poison working relationships.
Feldman further advises that however the post-election scenario plays out, that you reiterate your efforts around respect, empathy, and understanding to the diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts that are likely already in progress at your organization.
The tumult of 2020, from the raging pandemic to the spotlight on racial injustice, immigration, healthcare, climate change, police brutality and judicial reform make clear that business leaders have little choice but to step up and help mend the tattered state of civil discourse. These increasingly urgent problems impacting all US citizens have, and will continue to affect her people and its businesses.
As I’ve argued in previous articles, like all crises, this anxious moment in our national life presents not only danger but also much needed and long overdue opportunities for growth and change. We need to re-imagine a future that works for everyone. The only way that we are going to get there is through courageous dialogue.
Let’s do this.