I have a few employees who are unhappy with the change in our government’s administration and they tend to be very outspoken. I believe people shouldn’t discuss politics in the workplace, especially if they’re just voicing opinions to someone who hasn’t asked for them. How should I address this with the people in my office so we can continue to work together peacefully?
Manager Caught in the Middle
Dear Manager Caught in the Middle,
Thank you for raising such a relatable issue. Likely we’ve all found ourselves in the audience of someone airing an unsolicited political opinion. While I’m sympathetic to your frustration, I also see this as an ideal moment for some important self-reflection. Before jumping straight to solutions, I’d like to invite you to evaluate your role in this common challenge. Is the problem really about “outspoken” individuals who don’t like the new administration? Or is the problem more about an inability to hear their opinion? Are these individuals’ opinions really affecting your employees’ ability to work together peacefully, or are they just different than yours and therefore unwelcome?
I realize these questions are direct, but I hope you find them helpful. Your efforts to address this situation will go much better if you first check how and whether you are contributing.
So, first identify the real problem. Is it people airing their frustration with President Biden and his administration in an outspoken and unwelcome way? Or are you and others unwilling to hear an opinion that’s different from your own?
I’ll leave the self-reflection to you and suggest that if the challenge relates to the latter, then examine how you can create a more inclusive and respectful workplace for people on both sides of the political spectrum.
If you determine people truly are crossing a line in venting their opinions in the workplace, here are some things you can do.
It’s true, the workplace is often an inappropriate forum for discussing sensitive topics. Some workplaces have formal policies around discussing politics, religion, sexual orientation, etc. And that’s certainly an option you could pursue. If you’d like to create something formal, talk with HR and find ways to add a policy to your company handbook. If you enact a policy (or already have one), you could have a simple discussion with individuals crossing the line. Say something like, “Would you mind complying with our policy to avoid discussing politics at work? These topics are so personal and sensitive that we’d rather not bring them into the workplace and cause unnecessary stress and anxiety.”
Are others feeling as tired and taxed by the political discussion as you are? Poll the team and ask who would prefer to leave politics out of the office. If 80% feel this way, for example, you might set a boundary that captures the feelings of the majority of the team. Let the team know, “Hey, let’s acknowledge that it’s been a tough year and a majority of us would appreciate a break from political discourse at work. Let’s agree to leave this conversation at the front door. And let’s also make it okay to kindly remind each other of this agreement when needed.”
However, I caution you to make sure the agreement is not partisan. Political commentary goes for ALL political comments, not just those you might disagree with. Those who are now seen as outspoken may take issue if their peers were allowed to freely vent about President Trump and his administration over the past four years. If they don’t get the same privilege they watched their colleagues enjoy now that President Biden is in office, you may meet resistance. Honestly consider if this has been the case, and if so, tread lightly or move to the next tip.
Address Your Colleagues Directly
Assume your “outspoken” colleagues are reasonable and rational. Perhaps the best course of action is to simply pull the few individuals aside and kindly ask them to temper their political vent sessions. Don’t silence their views, just explain that there are times and places to discuss politics, especially in the workplace. Share some of the natural consequences that occur when they volunteer an unsolicited political opinion at work. For example, their comments may derail more important matters at hand, affect the pace of work and progress of meetings, or threaten the cohesiveness of the team. I’d be willing to bet they’ll be understanding to your kind approach. And if they see it differently, take it as an opportunity to listen and learn.
For better or worse, political discussions have wormed their way into every aspect of our lives. We are all responsible for the reality we are now living in—one where we often struggle to calmly and respectfully share our opinions and often struggle to calmly and respectfully listen. We would do well to learn how to both share our opinions in ways that will be heard and listen in ways that will drive change. I hope these tips help you to that end.
Best of luck,
What do you think? You can join the conversation in the comment section at the bottom of this page.
The ideas expressed in this article are based on the skills and principles taught in Crucial Conversations. Learn more about Crucial Conversations