Fortunately or unfortunately, the Presidential election has given those of us who make our living in the leadership world a lot to talk about. In the workplace we should often follow the sage advice of avoiding politics and religion, but this election cycle may require more flexibility from leaders than that.
Our country is divided about the Presidential candidates who both evoke strong opinions from their opponents. If the country is divided, most likely so are your employees. Don’t ignore this fact. As a leader in today’s world you probably have your own strong opinions about the candidates and who will be the best President. That’s okay, but be cautious and intentional about your political comments at work. No matter which candidate you support, you will be working with your colleagues and employees long after the election is decided. Don’t accidentally damage relationships or put your employees on the defensive by some offhand comment about the election, the candidates or the news swirling around this process. Be careful not to make assumptions on people’s beliefs or motivations for supporting a candidate, and be sure to not create a situation in which people feel that their political beliefs will have an impact on their work life. I’ve found many of the comments that damage working relationships are not intentional and often soon forgotten by the speaker, but not by the person or people who hear them.
Does That Mean Ignore the Election All Together?
It is nearly impossible to avoid the subject all together, and almost certainly your employees are having conversations with like-minded colleagues. Our work force is diversifying and women make up about 47 percent of the U.S. labor force. This election, driven by one candidate in particular, has brought issues of diversity and how women are treated to the fore. As a leader, you need to decide how you want to handle that. I would be using this opportunity to show each and every employee that they are valued as an individual and that discrimination of any kind, along with demeaning or disrespectful language, is not acceptable in any form.
But They Already Know That
Maybe. But I’ve been doing a lot of work with clients around conflict management and having important conversations recently, and I continue to hear stories from people who have a hard time addressing conflict because they don’t feel valued or they feel their opinions or feelings will be dismissed. These examples are taking place at organizations that from the outside have good cultures, that work hard to build strong teams and whose leaders want to encourage a positive organizational environment.
It may seem as though you are doing everything you can to show that people are valued, but your employees may not experience it the same way you do. Explicitly communicating and then showing through action that you value people no matter their race, ethnicity, gender, age or sexual identity will go a long will in building a strong team that performs better in the long run. We all have a basic need to feel valued, whether or not we say it, and research clearly shows that people perform better when they feel they are valued as an individual in their workplace.
This is All Just Political Correctness
Most often when the term political correctness is thrown out, it’s because someone has been asked to stop using language or behaving in a way that offends someone. It’s understandable to have some resistance to being asked to change a behavior, but what I stress in my work is that if people are feeling offended they are not performing to their best potential. Personally, I don’t want to use language or behave in a way that communicates that I don’t value a person’s feelings or who they are as a person, but if you, or someone you employ, can’t get to that perception change, just think of it as a way to positively impact the bottom line. Treating people how they want to be treated, using language they prefer, or not using language that offends them, helps the team perform better. Isn’t that what you are after as a leader in your workplace? It’s not just semantics. It shows respect and people respond pretty well to being respected.
Emotions May Be Raw
Regardless of the outcome on November 8, emotions about this election are already raw, and most likely will continue to be that way for some time. It’s important to understand that people may be feeling strongly about this when they are at work. While many of us would like to believe that we can “check it at the door”, that just not realistic on issues that people care deeply about. While this, or any outside issue cannot be allowed to consume your workplace, it’s important to keep this in mind while managing or leading people at this time.