How To Foster Civil Conversations In The Workplace
Michele Merrell is a technology and telecommunications executive and President of Merrell Consulting Group, a global consulting consortium.
Gone are the days when you could have an innocuous chat around the office Keurig machine. These days, any such conversation is rife with social and political landmines as we wake up each morning in a country that seems increasingly polarized. With that, business and politics can collide unexpectedly. Name a hot topic, whether it’s politics, Covid-19 or even Afghanistan, and it is sure to trigger the kind of conversation that might make the office a less safe and civil place. A simple discussion on mask mandates or vaccines is sometimes politicized in very surprising ways.
And, whether we like it or not, companies are being drawn into politics. It doesn’t matter if your company is a B2B company that doesn’t directly serve customers — there are still employees involved in the company’s operations that may want to understand where the company stands on key societal issues. And a consumer-facing company is more likely to face pressure from consumers to take a stand on key issues or even face possible boycotts.
While companies might have an outward-facing position on some of these topics, they still need to make sure that the office environment remains safe, productive and harassment-free for all employees. The company’s answer to some of these difficult questions does not necessarily always match its employees’ individual answers.
No matter what you think of various political figureheads, a good starting place for difficult conversations would be to reach common ground. The same is true in your office or corporation.
People often spend a lot of time digging trenches to protect their beliefs. Then they spend significant energy fiercely defending these trenches from “the enemy.” So, what can you do to make sure your office space doesn’t support divisiveness? Here are a few suggestions to restore peace and civil discourse to those coffee-pot conversations and some ground rules for the rest of the workday as well.