It’s lunchtime and you’re taking a work break by logging onto Facebook. Only instead of relaxing, you get perturbed when you see yet another post from your colleague “Jane” that criticizes politician John Doe’s approval of XYZ Pipeline. “That’s the third time she slammed him this week!” you angrily think to yourself. “Doesn’t she have anything else to do but dwell on his faults?”
12:30 quickly rolls around, and it’s time to get back to work. Except you’re finding it hard to concentrate because you are still upset about what Jane posted. “I thought I knew her better than that!” you think. (Maybe you didn’t – more on that later.)
Sound familiar? If so, you’re hardly alone. As reported by author Dave Crenshaw, a recent study by Better Works researched political polarization and its effects on productivity, and it revealed some disturbing trends. According to the survey of 500 companies, 87% of workers reported reading and getting involved in highly charged social media discussions. Further, 50% of employees reported witnessing a political conversation turn into a verbal jousting match on company time.
That isn’t the worst of it: Roughly one-third (29%) of US workers say that their productivity has decreased since the November presidential election. What to do? I have a few suggestions:
* Get over the idea that you won’t talk politics, so be prepared. It’s been said many times that it isn’t a good idea to talk religion or politics in various social settings. The problem is, this is much easier said than done! One approach is to never assume you know how your co-workers feel about a certain candidate, politician, or issue. For instance, it isn’t a good idea to stroll up to the water cooler and launch into, “Did you see what that dumbbell GOP…. said yesterday! I mean, how stupid can he be?” …
….Instead, try a more neutral stance such as…“Boy that was sure some controversy that candidate….was involved in yesterday!” In this way, you introduce a topic that you know is likely on other people’s minds, but you discover what THEY think first. Now, you can decide if you want to join in a conversation, or play it safe and just listen to what they say. If someone wants YOUR opinion, you might note: “Sorry, I really haven’t given this enough thought to offer a really solid opinion.”
* Above all, show respect for other people’s opinions. Whatever you do, don’t put the other person on the defensive by attacking their beliefs. Calling someone names or challenging things they hold dear is not likely to go well. Maybe Jane was upset over the pipeline being approved, but don’t call her a “tree hugger.”…
… If you are on the other side of the issue, you might say something like, “Jane, I read your post on Facebook about XYZ Pipeline, and I never quite thought of it from that point of view. You have given me something to think about.”
….This way, you are paving the road for more civil discourse or simply to “agree to disagree.” Hopefully, you will both leave feeling like you are both a little more open to “listening” to the other point of view…. A very important quality in the business world….
Some excellent advice from Dave Crenshaw is also at https://learning.linkedin.com/blog/working-together/here_s-how-to-focus-at-work-despite-political-polarization.
Moral of the story: Political discussion isn’t going away any time soon, even at work, but be careful: If you want someone to respect your opinion on a given issue, you have to respect theirs.