Vaccine mandates, universal healthcare? How to enable political discussions without polarizing staff

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Employees may want to bring their whole selves to work, but political discussions creating a toxic environment is a major fear for CEOs, according to a July 7 Harvard Business Review report.

Although it may seem easier to ban talking about politics altogether, that has had major repercussions on some CEOs and businesses. Jason Fried, the CEO of Basecamp, a tech company that hosts inter-company communications, said there would be "no more societal and political discussions on our company Basecamp account." Within a few days, one-third of its staff had quit and Mr. Fried had to apologize. Similar bans have resulted in large losses of employees — something hospitals cannot afford.

Here are four ways to enable political discussions while mitigating polarizing your staff:

  1. Build political empathy.
    Leaders should carve out a space for staff to informally learn about each other so they can identify their differences and boundaries. Allowing employees to get to know each other — even through Zoom — can build mutual respect between employees.

  2. Invite leaders with different opinions than yours.
    Research has shown that people value their own opinion about a third more than the opinion of others. To curb your leaders holding a monopoly over political opinions, consider inviting in leaders who have varying opinions. Even the devil's advocate may have something to offer.

  3. Be mindful of your response.
    Leaders should ask themselves how employees are received when they discuss political issues and if the reaction encourages or discourages political opinions. The writers posit that the more passionate someone is on a topic, the less articulate they become. Employees may hold off on speaking up if they fear they will be perceived negatively or upset their colleagues. Leaders can try to be more mindful with how they respond to workplace activism.

  4. If you're going to disagree, do it well.
    Developing the ability to disagree goes beyond how a company navigates political differences. Leaders should make their staff more comfortable with handling conflict as an integral part of innovation. For example, one company shares with its staff the disagreements that exist in the board board and explain the motivations behind the disagreements. They also tell their staff how they resolve disagreements.











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