Last week for everybody, on both sides of the aisle, was exhausting. With such divisive elections added to what has been a crushing year for health, business, the economy and more, many of your employees might be experiencing post-election anxiety.
Harvard Business Review reports that more than 25% of voters believe that one of the candidates will have cheated to win and 64% of people believe Russia will interfere with elections. It honestly feels like we’re all playing the part of extras in some poorly scripted Bond movie.
How, then, do you keep employees engaged and working together, regardless of political bend, after such a divisive year? Give employees the tools of dialogue. So many people find it difficult to discuss hot topics. As leaders, it’s fundamental to use civil discourse to reduce polarization in the workplace and, in turn, society.
The Dialogue Project has executed a global study on how to do just that – lead with positive communication to improve the workplace and our communities. They recommend these steps, all of which we have discussed over the years.
1. Accountability in leadership is a top driver of engagement. People are not only held accountable for their work but also how they express themselves at work. This is fundamental.
2. Listen. Listen to understand , not to react, reply, or win an argument. When leaders not only teach but also model active listening, respect, and kindness, so, too, do collaborators follow suit. The best way to tone down a heated moment
3. Value compromise. This is tough. But when your teams are heated and upset and come forward with a compromise, reward this! Polarization and digging in our heels get everybody nowhere fast. Organizations cannot work like congress.
4. Diversity isn’t just a catchphrase or trend. It’s something that really makes a difference in an organization. Valuing diverse opinions is something the Google bots have taken from us, as they constantly feed us what we want to see and read. This confirmation bias, or echo chambers, don’t do much for reducing polarization. Create safe spaces to share different points of view. How diverse is your organization? Diversity is not only the right thing to do, but the smart business model to develop. How is your organization holding up? Conduct a Diversity, Equity, Inclusion Survey to clarify your workplace culture climate, identify opportunities for growth, and uncover hidden issues and opinions.
5. Empathy reigns when it comes to reducing polarization. Build empathy. Demonstrate empathy. Teach collaborators to ask, “Why?” instead of jumping to judgement. The world could do a lot with a little more empathy everywhere.
6. Just the facts ma’am. So much of communication is emotional. When discussing an issue, discuss the issue, the behavior, the language. Focus on the future! This last point is critical to move forward toward compromise and conciliation. When we get stuck in the past, pointing out flaws and errors, we get de-railed. It’s frustrating, not to mention polarizing and kind of boring.
7. Does everyone have a voice? Ensuring that everyone feels heard, their point-of-view valued, is something leaders must be mindful and intentional about. This is tough. Work on meeting equality:
a. Have fewer meetings (yes!!!) and make them smaller.
b. Communicate ahead of time.
c. Ask for feedback.
d. Assign roles.
e. Do not allow interruptions.
8. Treat the root issues, not the symptoms. This takes more time, more intentionality, and can really shift your organization’s focus. But by understanding the problem, you can also identify issues like pay discrepancies, systemic racism.
9. Send a message. As CEO, organization leader, or president of the board. Send a message to the team recognizing how divisive these elections have been for everyone. Acknowledge how challenging they have been. Recognizing this, voicing it, and modeling a behavior of respect will help. DO NOT STAY SILENT and hope for “business as usual.”
As business leaders, we lead by example. Creating spaces of kindness, compassion, active listening, assertive and candid communication, and empathy reduce polarization. This makes for a better, more productive workplace, increased employee engagement, and a safer community.
The work starts now.
Model programs include:
The Better Arguments Project
The Courageous Conversations Series