Talking To Your Team About Current Events
With the recent upsetting events taking place in DC, I’ve noticed my young team members spending a lot of their time at work having conversations about what’s happening and what it all means. I can tell they are anxious and want to help ease their fears, but I’m not sure the best way to approach that or if I even should. Obviously, politics are a delicate discussion for a professional setting. Do you think I should just let them work it out themselves?
It’s not unusual for coworkers to want to talk about important breaking news events, such as took place in Washington DC last week, and to seek out the support and caring of like-minded colleagues and gaining a deeper understanding of the meaning and likely sequelae of such events. As we’ve seen with the pandemic, with the horrendous murders of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and Breonna Taylor and the ensuing protests supporting Black Lives Matter and now with the events in DC, managers or leaders must recognize people’s desire and need to talk with colleagues about real-time events in the world and also be sensitive to when it’s time to help people refocus on work.
We also seek input from people who have different views on current events—to gain understanding, to find new meaning, or to try to convince other people of the “rightness of our own position. As you point out, and I’ve discussed in response to previous posts around the time of the 2020 election, having a respectful, illuminating conversation about political matters with work colleagues who hold different positions can be challenging. It helps when people having those conversations are clear about:
· the goals, such as to
vent with a like-minded colleague,
learn the thinking of colleague who have different views,
understand the short-, mid-, and long-term consequences of an event, and
· the parameters of the conversations, such as
maintaining a curious frame of mind,
knowing when to stop the conversation (because it is no longer helpful or respectful).
In answer to your question of whether to “let them work it out themselves,” I would ask first whether they have created parameters for their conversations, and then what the consequences would be should they not be able to work it out themselves. It takes at least some level of motivation and self-awareness to have respectful and fruitful conversations with people who hold different views on matters that are deeply felt.
If you are a manager or leader, a different question is whether you should say something, even if they can work it out. Many people would say that answer is “yes.” A recent article by Ella F. Washington, Alison Hall Birch, and Erika Hall in the Harvard Business Review notes:
“Many leaders are unsure about how to discuss current events that elicit strong opinions and emotions from their team members and so their default is to say nothing or make only a passing comment. Resist that tendency. You need to instead lean into this moment of disbelief, frustration, anger, fear, and anything else people might be feeling — not only today but from here on out. When something unspeakable occurs, you won’t find the perfect words to calm your people and restore their focus. No one does. But it is important that you acknowledge pain when it is felt. It is top of mind for your employees, and they are waiting to hear from you.”
Note: Some companies have created policies that prohibit political discussions while “at work” (including working remotely).
Disclaimer: This question and response is provided for informational purposes only, and you should not act or refrain from acting on the basis of this content. It is strongly recommended that you immediately seek legal or other professional advice if you believe you are experiencing a problem requiring professional assistance. Robin Rosenberg and Live in Their World, Inc. disclaim all liability for actions you take or fail to take based on Dear Robin content.