Politics around the world seem to be getting more and more divisive, and it’s impossible for the topic not to enter into our everyday conversations — including at work. When people on your team have differing views, those conversations can often get tense. As a manager, what sort of ground rules can you lay down for these conversations?
Here’s some advice
SET AN EXAMPLE. Leading a team of people with dissimilar political stripes is similar to managing a team comprised of employees from different cultures, races, genders and backgrounds, says Tina Opie, associate professor in the management division at Babson College. A certain degree of conflict may be unavoidable, but it doesn’t have to be uncivilized. You set the right tone and tenor for how your team members relate to one another.
Emily Gregory, a vice president at VitalSmarts, a leadership training company, recommends laying the groundwork by modeling inclusivity, encouraging divergent views, demonstrating respect for others and showing a willingness to challenge your own assumptions.
DON'T BAN POLITICAL TALK. Banning political talk is impractical and counterproductive, says Gregory. “Putting down barriers about what people can and can’t say hurts team culture more than it builds it,” she says. “Topics shouldn’t be off-limits.”
DON'T FORCE IT. Talking about politics or certain politicians “could be a trigger for some colleagues,” says Opie. Make clear that these conversations should only happen between team members who are willing and eager to participate, and no one should be dragged into the discussion.
ESTABLISH RULES OF ENGAGEMENT. Some ground rules are necessary, says Opie. “You don’t want employees to feel unsafe discussing certain topics.” As the manager you need to:
Emphasize respect. Be proactive in maintaining courteous and considerate interactions, says Opie. Don’t tolerate name-calling or interruptions. Be prepared to act if conversations cross the line between healthy debate to bitter acrimony.
Promote self-reflection. As the team leader, says Opie, inspire your employees to seek common ground. “Ask, ‘What do you find attractive about the other side’s position or argument? And what concerns you about your argument?’”
Seek to understand. “Our political values are shaped by our life experiences,” says Gregory. In order for these conversations to be as constructive as possible, you and your team members must “seek to understand others’ experiences and what led them to their beliefs,” she says.
CALL OUT INAPPROPRIATE COMMENTS. One of the biggest challenges arises when someone makes an insensitive remark or says something antithetical to the values of your team culture and organization, says Opie. Don’t ignore it. As the leader, “speak up and take a stand,” she says.
Principles to Remember
Be a good role model. Embrace inclusivity, demonstrate respect for divergent views and be willing to challenge your assumptions.
Encourage your team members to seek to understand others’ experiences and what led them to their political beliefs.
Tread carefully with direct reports whose politics differ from yours. You don’t want them to feel that they’re going to be negatively evaluated due to your differing stances.
Ban political conversations. It’s counterproductive.
Shy away from calling out inappropriate remarks.
Lose sight of how this politically turbulent period is affecting your employees as people. Ask, how can I help you feel heard?