Making Room for Political Diversity in the Workplace

At the end of every election season, it’s ever more clear: we live in a time of political divisiveness in our general culture.

When we are at work, how do we listen to and speak with each other about potentially polarizing topics, where our political affiliations tap into our sometimes very different personal beliefs?

The workplace isn’t center stage for political discussions. However, as in all places where we spend time with others, the workplace functions best when it’s able to accommodate a diversity of beliefs.

Here are some key ways to allow for political diversity at work, and how to keep political discussions from damaging your workplace culture:

  • Create cultures of political diversity, not political division.

    The more we fear our political divisions, the more we nourish a culture of fear. If a political discussion breaks out at a meeting, and tension enters the room, receive the tension. Try not shutting the conversation down, but framing it: “I see that Jane believes X. I see that Sam believes Y. We need to move away from this at the moment, but let’s remember that we respect and allow for political diversity here.” When managers frame difficult conversations this way, it shows others how to frame them.

  • Model accountability.

    Part of accountability is acknowledging that our behavior creates experiences for others. Accountability is first a reflective internal process (“How did I handle that moment?) and then a receptive external communication skill (“Hey, I think I handled that moment wrong. How could I have framed it better?”) The more you put your own accountability into the work environment, the more your workplace will be able to accommodate a diversity of political opinions in a respectful way. 

  • Being professional means being a real person.

    Everyone wants to be seen and heard, no matter what kind of workplace you have — hybrid, remote, or in-person. Being “professional” doesn’t mean closing off what’s important to you, personally, from your teams. Model and create a culture of sharing who you are in appropriate, contained moments. Differences, including political ones, will come to light: recognize these differences, but don’t give them the spotlight.

  • Align your common goals and your organization’s Cultural Beliefs.

    The key is to keep your people aligned on the reason why you are working together: to achieve the organizational purpose, drive toward targeted results, and model your organization’s Cultural Beliefs. Political beliefs or a discussion of them should never overtake your workplace culture and its purpose. But differences held by people, and practicing recognizing those differences, needs to be given a place. This practice can, in turn, strengthen a workplace culture.

Part of any work culture is learning how to navigate the complex issues of our larger world within the workplace ecosystem. Healthy cultures embrace complexity. Cultures that aim to suppress all expression of political differences, or can’t support a diversity of political perspectives, tend to defer and amplify actual conflict, instead of productively addressing it. And avoiding complex issues altogether is just that: avoidant.

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