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'6 steps to chatting about the Genny Lec at work'

Updated: Jun 14

The adage ‘no religion, no politics’ used to be a way to avoid potentially awkward conversations at work. Pair that with the potential legal implications that come with political chat, and you have a recipe for…silence.

But with Macron calling a snap election in France, the recent results of the European, Indian, and Mexican elections, and the UK elections looming, politics are very much on the brain. We’re not the first to notice the increasing polarisation of society. Last year, the Edelman Trust Barometer reported that Western societies in particular are becoming increasingly divided. At The Unmistakables, we’re pondering how to broach these discussions in the workplace in an effort to bridge the divide.

Taking a step back, snap elections are designed to evoke quick engagement from the public. On top of this, politicians tap into aspects of human identity and characteristics to position people against each other, frequently making headlines as part of wider culture wars. 

While we tend to bond with people who share similar views to us as a natural feature of affinity bias, in the workplace we will inevitably interact with people who think differently to us. We now have potentially six generations working together for the first time, all with different expectations and different norms. How we deal with this dynamic is key for unlocking true inclusion. Consultants Amani and Selina share their top tips for how leaders can open up the space for constructive conversations about politics at work.

As a caveat, these tips are not for situations where harm has been caused, or where someone’s views violate your dignity in the workplace. These tips are best used where there is a genuine desire to facilitate closeness and understanding in the team. 

1. Right reason 

Before attempting to get your team to have potentially tricky conversations at work, you might want to ask yourself ‘why’ you want to have them in the first place. 

Are you sensing that there is an elephant in the room that is impacting team dynamics? 

Have you noticed a particular topic gets repeatedly brought up on the fringes of team meetings, but never quite aired out in full?

It’s worth checking in with colleagues on a 1-1 basis to see if they’d value having a team conversation about a political issue. 

2. Right place, right time

While there’s no perfect time to have a potentially difficult conversation, there are some contexts that are more conducive to constructive debate. 

It might be possible to carve out dedicated space in team meetings to discuss world issues if there are high levels of psychological safety in your workplace culture. 

Whatever the method, ensure you have sufficient time, energy, and headspace to dedicate to the discussion — it’s hard and likely fruitless to debate geopolitics as the 5-minute opening segment of a team meeting. However, given that younger generations increasingly expect and value when their companies take positions on the political issues they care about, it’s something we need to get used to. It’s also helpful to offer decompression time after the conversation, should people wish to take it.

3. Practise active listening

The aim when entering a conversation should be to adopt an understanding mindset rather than a winning mindset. 

Active listening, also known as non-judgmental listening, means listening to understand rather than to respond. It involves putting your views and values to one side and being careful not to criticise or judge the person who you are listening to. 

The tricky thing about being non-judgmental is that it doesn’t feel natural. Because making judgments IS natural – our brains are hardwired to do it! But when we judge, we respond to a situation as though our judgments were true rather than just labels we’ve stuck on someone. 

This negates the active listening you’re doing – you no longer hear the person speaking, you hear them through your own filter. Which isn’t helpful when trying to understand where someone is coming from.

4. Be curious 

Approach disagreements with curiosity rather than defensiveness. It’s important to ask questions to ensure you understand what someone is really trying to say and to build the bridge upon which to meet them. 

A key component of asking good questions is ensuring that they are in good faith — in other words, you’re not asking questions in an attempt to ‘disprove their argument,’ it’s to genuinely understand their world-views. This helps you to debate the issue, not the person and helps show that you are giving your colleagues the benefit of the doubt.

5. When you make mistakes, don’t stop out of fear

It’s just not possible to navigate these kinds of conversations without making a mistake once in a while, whether it’s things like using an outdated term or accidentally using a dog whistle without knowing it is one. 

Treading the fine line between knowing what we can and can’t say means that conversations may always feel uncomfortable. And while it’s useful to have moments of shame where we realise that we said something hurtful or weren’t doing enough before, we cannot become mired in our guilt. 

Use that feeling as a driving force to learn and grow our conversational skills. Being uncomfortable should become normal –what’s important is becoming capable and confident in having difficult conversations. 

6. Self-reflect on how you have developed your own world-view

When it comes to your own world-view and political beliefs, it’s crucial to remember that these aren’t objective facts: they are shaped by your personal experiences and what you subsequently (and sometimes unconsciously) deem to be important. 

When you are engaged in a political discussion, it can be helpful to slow down, take your time, and explain the mechanics behind your political views–what information helped you reach that particular conclusion or view?

Political views are not fixed ways of thinking. They are nuanced and can change over time. It might seem obvious, but we sometimes forget in the heat of a debate that there are some things about a person, a politician, and a policy that you agree with–and others that you don’t. 

By taking the time to reflect on the grey areas rather than falling into the trap of winning the debate, we can start to understand others' views and where their thinking might have come from. And, if it speaks to us, allow those views to shape our own.


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