Political conflict in the workplace

In today’s political climate, there seems to be something to upset everyone. Conversations at work can quickly become awkward and even offensive, and that’s not good for productivity or profits. Recent reports show that less that 25 percent of companies nationwide have a written policy on political activities at work, so it’s obvious that many leaders prefer to avoid the topic.

Forbidding political discussion at the office is one option, but restricting conversations can be difficult to enforce. You might prefer to treat staff like emotionally intelligent grown-ups who can use common sense regarding differences of opinion. However, with today’s political climate, it’s best to be prepared.

If you’re experiencing awkward political discussions, or have staff that is hyper-focused on sharing their opinions, act now to reinforce your position on overall professionalism. Here are some helpful ideas.

1. Dust off and update your “code of conduct.” Now is a great time to remind everyone of your company mission and value statement such as the expectation of professionalism, respect and tolerance of all individuals.

2. Turn off the TV and radio news. Listening to news at work doesn’t do anything to improve moods or productivity. Instead, tune into music that is scientifically proven to create a positive, creative and productive environment. Retailers, factories and casinos have been profiting from this technique for decades.

3. Remind everyone of company goals. If you’re noticing that your team is wasting time on any kind of discussions, it’s time to re-visit goals, start a new project or encourage conversations related to new sales, new clients and increased profits. You might want to consider a friendly competition or contest that creates enthusiasm and momentum.

4. Adopt a new charity. Recent news and political reports have been extremely controversial and negative. This can create feelings of fear, overwhelm and uncertainty. To combat this negativity consider creating social initiatives in your own community. Ask your employees about local charities that are important to them. Make an impact by hosting a special fundraiser, or creating a new scholarship fund.

It seems like we’re going to be riding the rough waters of political controversy for a while, so I encourage you to go ahead and tackle this situation now, before you find yourself in the midst of a conflict. Remember, regardless of your title, people are paying attention to your actions and your reactions. Take advantage of the opportunity to be an influential leader.


Beth Caldwell works with companies and organizations to confront conflict, deal with drama, and make important decisions. She’s the host of Pittsburgh BizTV Show’s Smart Leadership.