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Karin And David’s Leadership Articles

Making it Easier to Navigate Politics at Work

According to Glassdoor’s 2020 Politics at Work Research, most U.S. employees believe political discussions are “unacceptable” at work.

And yet, one in two employees have done so.

In fact, twenty-eight percent report:

a co-worker has tried to persuade them to change their political party preference in the past year.

These contentious political conversations come at a cost. Twenty-one percent of the employees surveyed in the Glassdoor study reported they would not want to work with a co-worker who plans to vote for a presidential candidate they don’t like in the next election.

Politics and Social Media: The Conversation Before the Conversation

But, it’s tricky.

Even if you (or your co-workers) don’t breathe a word about politics at the virtual water cooler, it doesn’t take much to know exactly where your co-workers stand.

We’ve had so many HR folks tell us of the complaints they’re in the middle of because:

the other guy started it.

Which, upon further investigation, all came down to politics being discussed on a social media post.

Co-workers can feel personally attacked by a political point of view, even if it wasn’t meant to be about them.

As one senior leader shared:

Our biggest challenge is that people think if you support _______, you are a bad person. Who wants to work with a bad person?

Tips For Preventing Political Conversations From Getting Out of Hand

1. Reflect to connect with your coworkers.

If your values and views are so far apart that conversations feel like powder kegs, you’re not likely going to change anyone’s mind— no matter how persuasive your argument might be at the virtual happy hour.

Instead, work to focus on empathetic conversations, with a simple approach— reflect the emotion you’re hearing and use that to make a human connection.

For example:

I can tell you’re really frustrated by this issue.

You seem really excited about that event you attended.

I hear you’re hopeful about _____.

With a simple reflection phrase, your co-worker will feel seen and heard by you, which makes it easier to calmly extricate yourself from a further conversation on the topic. And get back to collaborating on your common goals.

2. Connect one-on-one.

It’s hard to hate people up close. Move in. -Brené Brown

Conversations seem to go sideways the fastest in crowds, or in asynchronous communication.  Respectful one-on-one conversation, where you show up and really listen, can go a long way in building deeper human connection and relationships.

People do long for connection and support during this challenging time. Deeper, respectful dialogue, done well, will go a long way in building trust and repairing the damage from casual assumptions.

3. Leverage the company policies and rules.

Most companies are re-communicating their policies and guidelines about appropriate conversations at work. (If you’re in HR and need help, here’s a useful SHRM article on the topic.)

Without creating a ruckus, you can simply say, “This conversation seems to be headed to a place that is outside of our company guidelines. I’m going to choose to stay out of it and focus on (insert your big business challenge).”

4. Beware of outside conversations creeping in.

It’s certainly within your rights to engage in contentious conversations with a co-worker at the bar after work or in an after-hours social media exchange, but it could come at a cost.

Once the drama ensues, it’s hard to let it go on your Monday morning Zoom call.

A conversation with a co-worker is still a conversation with a co-worker, even if you aren’t at work.

It’s a big world with more than enough opportunities to vet, vent, and engage. And often, it’s better to do it somewhere else.

Your Turn

What would you add? What’s your best advice for preventing politics from destroying work relationships?

See Also:

How to Help Your Team Prepare for the Turbulent Aftermath of the Election

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Karin Hurt and David Dye

Karin Hurt and David Dye help human-centered leaders find clarity in uncertainty, drive innovation, and achieve breakthrough results. As CEO and President of Let’s Grow Leaders, they are known for practical tools and leadership development programs that stick. Karin and David are the award-winning authors of five books including, Courageous Cultures: How to Build Teams of Micro-Innovators, Problem Solvers, and Customer Advocates and Winning Well: A Manager’s Guide to Getting Results-Without Losing Your Soul A former Verizon Wireless executive, Karin was named to Inc. Magazine’s list of great leadership speakers. David Dye is a former executive and elected official. Karin and David are committed to their philanthropic initiative, Winning Wells – building clean water wells for the people of Cambodia.

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