Inside Disruption Blog

Bridging Political Divides at Work

Author: Kyla Porter
November 1, 2022

American flag blowing in the wind

 

As midterm elections approach quickly in America, political divide within the workplace is likely to rise as political tensions increase throughout the country. As social media platforms and other outlets have impacted and informed the ways in which we digest politics, people on both sides of the political spectrum have moved faster and farther apart, making it harder to find common ground—or even to participate in civil discourse in regard to politics and elections.

 

Due to the critical nature of the midterm election decisions—in terms of who gains or loses control of the majority of seats in Congress—tension and discord may worsen in the coming weeks and following midterm elections depending on the outcome of the polling.

 

These decisions are especially pertinent and sensitive given recent events, including decisive legislature on climate change and the overturning of Roe vs. Wade. The outcome of this election will determine whether there will be partisanship gridlock between Congress and the White House, due to the potential for Republicans to take the majority of seats in the House and the Senate. Currently, Democrats hold a slim majority of seats in Congress.

When political conversations escalate to volatile workplace conflict

In the 2020 presidential election, we saw firsthand how political divide and intense polarization throughout the country can cause heightened tension in living room conversations, conflict on all social media formats, and even volatile workplace arguments.

 

Workplace arguments are highly disruptive—and in extreme cases, can lead to workplace violence.

 

It is important for employers to be aware of how the partisan divide can show up within their organization and affect the overall well-being of their people and business. It is also crucial for organizations to have strategies and resources in place that go beyond a diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) pledge. Organizational leaders must take proactive steps to bridge political differences and help their employees feel safe, comfortable, and productive at work.

How did the American Public get to this point?

When looking at how political divide can affect a workplace, it is important to first understand the concept of Affective Polarization, otherwise known as “Tribalism.” Tribalism is the process in which political differences become no longer viewed as policy or governance issues but rather as central determinates of social and personal identity.

 

According to Dr. Vaile Wright, Senior Director of Health Care Innovation, APA, “In recent years, Americans have started to fuse their identity with their political affiliation, which was not common prior to 2016.”

 

What does this mean, exactly? Americans no longer see their fellow citizens with opposite views on political issues as having a similar moral compass and the same intrinsic morality as they do. In terms of American history, this level of polarization, sometimes referred to as toxic polarization, is relatively new.

 

When it comes to political parties, the Pew Research Center tells us:

 

  • 72% of Republicans regard Democrats as immoral
  • 63% of Democrats think the same of Republicans

 

Put simply: when we don’t see eye to eye with our coworkers on public policy, it is easy to subconsciously (sometimes even consciously) categorize them as “bad” or “immoral” and decide we are simply unable to discuss certain topics with the other side, or even worse, work with them at all.

What can employers do to combat the negative effects of the political divide in their workplaces?

For starters, leaders must recognize that political discourse will not go away. Tensions will likely continue to rise due to the intense political polarization and political climate the United States still finds itself facing.

 

The current sociopolitical climate can make focusing on work challenging and create distrust and negative emotions between coworkers with differing beliefs and viewpoints.

 

As Dr. Brené Brown says in her book, Daring to Lead, “Leaders must either invest a reasonable amount of time trying to manage fears and feelings or squander an unreasonable amount of time trying to manage ineffective and unproductive behavior.”

 

A leader’s intervention in managing the fears and feelings of their employees can look different depending on the unique nature of an organization. However, creating space for respectful, “listen first” discussions and conversations, in which employees feel safe to share their views and listen to others, can be an extremely powerful (and universal) tool for helping employees to feel heard and express disagreement in a healthy way. This is the first step toward bridge-building.

 

With many organizations requiring their employees to return to in-person working, these once potentially avoidable conversations are now only a cubicle away.

 

During the 2020 election, R3 Continuum (R3c) received an overwhelming number of requests to send consultants on-site to workplaces, specifically trained in mediating these types of conversations as neutral third-party respondents to deliver R3c’s Facilitated Discussions service. Through the use of this service, employers were able to improve their workplace community members’ cohesion through respectful discourse. This process helped to make their teams stronger despite differences, rather than letting employee relationships continue to deteriorate and tensions increase.

 

As the midterm elections approach, employers and leaders may want to consider using tools like R3c’s Facilitated Discussions in order to help their people thrive and feel comfortable at work.

Contact us today to learn how you can make your teams stronger when the political divide threatens to tear them apart.