Don’t allow hot-button issues to burn your team

Don’t allow hot-button issues to burn your team

Problem: The divisive issues that are all over the news right now—contraception, the situation in Afghanistan, separation of church and state and so on—have made their way into your workplace. Watercooler conversations have become tense. Co-workers who normally get along are at odds. A few outright arguments have erupted over some of these political topics. While you support everyone’s right to an opinion, these tensions are disrupting teamwork, morale and productivity.

Solution: Workers are entitled to their political beliefs. However, if the way they’re expressing their views damages your team or organization, it’s your responsibility to step in. Set these rules—for your team and yourself—to ease tension and prevent it in the future:

  • Personal attacks are unacceptable. You probably won’t be able to stop employees from discussing politics on their break time, but you can set parameters. Explain that while it is acceptable to discuss the merits or flaws of a position, personal attacks directed at co-workers are never OK. Example: “I don’t support Obama’s position on X, because of A, B and C.” is all right, but “I can’t believe you support Santorum! I thought you were smarter than that!” is not. Explain that employees must remain respectful in all conversations.
  • Don’t assume everything is a personal attack. On the flip side, it’s important for everyone on the team to accept that disagreeing on a political issue does not equate to hating one another. It just means you disagree. Mature, respectful adults don’t make it personal, nor do they take it personally.
  • Email is for work-related messages only. Tempers can flare when employees forward political emails to their co-workers. In many cases, an employee assumes that fellow co-workers will appreciate a forward because he or she found it informative or interesting. Unfortunately, some of the people who receive the forwarded message may find it offensive. That reaction can lead to an unproductive round of reply-all emails in which employees take sides. Avoid the issue entirely by banning staff- or department-wide emails that are unrelated to work.
  • Do not discuss political issues in front of or with customers. You might assume that is common sense, but it’s worth stating openly. When people are regularly surrounded by others who agree with them, they can start to assume that everyone sees things their way. That assumption can cause them to ostracize or anger customers. Tell employees that when a customer brings up a political issue, you expect them to respond in a nonconfrontational, nonpartisan way. Offer samples of possible responses, such as “You have given me something to think about.”
  • Be consistent. As the boss, you should remain politically neutral. For example, you can’t ignore some employees’ emails about a political issue but reprimand another person for taking the opposite stance in an email. Regardless of what your personal opinions are, you must enforce the rules across the board.

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