Prioritizing Respect When Views Differ Between Colleagues
Updated: Nov 28, 2020
Even though the election was last week, it doesn’t feel like the tension among my colleagues who have different political opinions has settled down. Some of them want to talk about the election and ongoing events. I generally like the people I work with and don’t want to create problems. It feels weird not to talk about these important events. What should I do?
As I noted last week, some companies have policies or guidelines regarding talking about politics at work. Assuming you and your colleagues may and will talk about the election and its aftermath, the most important thing is to treat each other with respect. Here are some things to think about before having a conversation about politics (or any issue about which people are likely to have strongly held beliefs on different sides of an issue):
If you are the one initiating the conversation, before you say anything, think about what your goal is. You are not likely to persuade someone who has an opposing view to agree with you. If you want to understand how they came to have their view or position, ask the question with an open mind—without the expectation that there is a “right” answer to your question.
Before you tell someone your view, if they haven’t asked you for your view, ask them if they want to know your view. If they don’t want to know, don’t tell them! It’s not respectful to foist your view about politics on a colleague who doesn’t want to hear it.
If a colleague starts the conversation, so you’re likely to be caught off guard, consider pausing for a moment to decide whether you want to engage in the conversation—right at that time, or at all. What would your goal be? Even if you would like to engage, is that particular moment a good time for both of you? You both want to be your best selves in the discussion.
Whoever starts the conversation, here are some basic tips for respectful conversations:
DON’T push your views on other people.
DON’T try to convince them.
DON’T be judgmental when talking to them.
DO ask questions. Be curious and open to their answers. They have reasons for their views, just as you have reasons for your views. Their life experience has shaped their views as your life experience has shaped your views.
DO be courteous. These are people you work with and collaborate with.
DO look for common ground. What values do you and your colleague(s) share (although you may disagree on how those values should be realized or expressed)? Are there beliefs about the meaning of democracy that you shar? Are there times when each of you has had the same set of feeling, even if the event that led to those feelings was different?
Here’s a link to a detailed discussion guide from the Democracy for President organization:
Here’s their main resource page, addressing research and suggestions on various related topics such as Why Does Democracy Matter? And What Motivates Americans to Vote?
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