As the world’s polarized politics seep into the workplace, leaders are confronted with the dilemma of allowing or not allowing political views to gain a foothold in conversations between colleagues.
Social issues have become intertwined with personal identities, and that brings political views to the forefront of topics some team members want to discuss. The decision to encourage or discourage political discourse within the bounds of the workplace is fraught with issues.
When MIT research suggests that more than 38 percent of employees surveyed report being uncomfortable with political discussions at work, with a large proportion fearing being disrespected in those conversations, leaders must weigh the consequences of whether open discourse on political issues makes sense.
Leaders would be wise to assume that among colleagues there exists many strongly held views across the ideological spectrum. Nearly all teams are more politically diverse in their views than people generally believe. The bottom line is that no group of people will see the world in the same way or view politics in neatly packaged frameworks.
The problem is that people feel easily threatened when they perceive they are being judged for their ideology and political views.
When leaders encourage colleagues to express their political views in group settings, some team members will be reticent to expose their true views or to express them openly. Those colleagues quickly feel as if the workplace is not a safe place. The open discourse then has a chilling effect on interaction. Those who feel threatened stay on guard at all times so as not to offend or be offended by how others advocate for their views.
While it is not ideal, the best leaders set limits on political discussions in the workplace. They know that open discussion is a sure-fire way to fracture workplace relationships. Yet, not to allow team members to share their honest views on topics important to them can demotivate and create a sour climate. The best leaders opt to separate dyadic and group conversations regarding politics.
Leaders who encourage dyadic conversations on any topic and prohibit group discussions or the use of team information channels for ideological commentary of any kind walk this delicate line best. Team members can always express their views to those individuals willing to engage, but are prohibited from group formats where those uninterested or unwilling are held captive by unwanted voices or views.
Setting limits is not perfect, but it is better than watching relationships collapse under the weight of ideological disagreement. After all, the goodwill shared by the team is always more important.