Last week, the U.S. experienced a horrific first in its history—an attack on the nation’s capitol, and both friends and foes of our country looked on in horror. The aftermath of the attack has brought dramatic action and powerful repercussions, including federal charges against perpetrators, resignations of the Capitol Police Chief and senior administration officials including Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao and others, official bans of the President’s social media accounts, a calling for the President to be removed via the 25th amendment or impeachment, and more.
While there is so much uncertainty and turmoil in these times, I believe one thing is crystal clear that we’d all agree on–that many millions of U.S. citizens have very conflicting views about what is transpiring in our country, what it means for our nation’s future, and what actions would be best to bring about a stabler, better country for the majority of people who live here.
The consequences of this type of divisiveness in our country and in our workplaces cannot be overestimated. For people to work together, collaborate productively, sit on diverse teams, focus on key projects as a group, and feel safe in the organization they work for, it’s essential that hatred, division and rage between people who are in different ideological “bunkers” need to be addressed and successfully mitigated. And we need to commit to work behaviors and communication approaches that forge bonds, not destroy them.
But how can we—as individuals, leaders or managers—help quell the rage and division that exists today and bring people who have very different perspectives together so they can work in unity and harmony with each other?
Interestingly, Comparably recently conducted a poll that asked its users, “Do the political views of your co-workers affect your working relationship with them?”
The published results of the study are here. As of December 13th, the data reflected responses from 17,803 employees from a variety of departments, locations, and demographics in the U.S. who were surveyed over the past two years. They provide the infographics in real-time on the site with a transparent breakdown of how different demographics answered the question, from gender, ethnicity and age, to education, department, and location.
Jaime Sarachit, Comparably’sHead of Communications, shared with me that Comparably is a workplace culture and compensation site and employees come onto the site organically to research salary data, rate their employers, and answer a variety of 100 workplace culture questions such as this one.
A key finding of the study is this: 77% of men and 75% of women reported that political views do not impact their work relationships. That’s a remarkable finding, and one that many of us would say is quite surprising or even hard to believe, based on what we’re seeing in our own lives. From my years as a market research director in my corporate career and in my research projects today, I’ve seen that self-reported responses can often reveal what we internally “wish” the answer to be or even what we would “hope” our behavior reveals, rather than what is truly the case.
What most of the professional colleagues and clients I speak with would say they do believe in is the idea that people of all walks of life can take concrete action to help overcome their differences with others at work, and we have it within our capabilities to forge strong and productive working relationships with people despite our differences in perspectives and political views.
I have found there are 5 key strategies that help us ensure that our work relationships can thrive, even when we don’t politically agree.
These 5 strategies are:
Remember that people are more than their politics
I have close family members and friends who possess extremely different views than I about the events of recent years and our political situation today. But these people are very important to me, and I love and care for them and their wellbeing. As hard as it can be sometimes to remember this fact, people are more than their political views.
When you’re with someone who has very different political viewpoints, bring to mind all that you enjoy and appreciate about them. Remember the good times you’ve had with them, the kindness and generosity they’ve shown, the great conversations, the laughs and fascinating conversations, their wonderful contributions and talents at work, and more. Hold tight to the idea that you can care for someone deeply who, at the same time, sees the world very differently.
Recognize that all behavior and mindsets are understandable when you understand their context
One very powerful concept I learned in my training as a marriage and family therapist is that all behavior can be understood when you understand how it was formed and where it was derived from—the influences that shaped it.
From the cultural training we received as children in our families, to the geographic locations we’ve lived in, the authority figures who influenced us, the personal trials, tribulations and crises we’ve faced, the peers we associate with, the news we watch, the social media trends we follow, etc., we are being shaped powerfully every single day by our own personal and professional contexts. (For instance, for a sobering look at how social media is impacting and shaping our behavior and thoughts without our conscious awareness, check out the Netflix docu-drama The Social Dilemma.)
What that means is that every person in front of you is not the same as you, and can’t be expected to think and feel in the same ways as you do. Accept this fact and understand that we don’t need “sameness” to feel respect for, and commonality with, others.
Avoid embroiling yourself in political debates and arguments—they will get you nowhere
If you recognize that you and your work colleague(s) disagree vehemently about politics, then you need to understand that no amount of talking about your views will change them. To internalize this more deeply, think about the degree to which you would be changed from just one conversation.
For instance, if you’re a Democrat, would you change your position and become a Republican after one conversation? I daresay that would be extremely unlikely, if not impossible. The same is true for others. Your impassioned debates and arguments about the “rightness” of your views and all the data you have to support your opinions will simply fall on deaf ears, and you’ll push away or make an enemy of someone who doesn’t want to change and will not change, simply because you think they should.
Put it out on the table and make your intention clear
Everyone has a right to their opinion. But if your ideological differences with a colleague begin to be a point of outward and continual contention and conflict, it might be time to make clearer your positive intention in the relationship—that even though you don’t see eye to eye politically, you are committed to not letting that difference get in the way of how you engage with each other and the work you do together. You can make an agreement and promise to be respectful, courteous, and as compassionate as possible to others, putting your desires for a positive work culture and a successful interpersonal relationship above your personal differences.
If your work relationship with a particular colleague is struggling due to your political differences, one way to address it is to have an open dialogue with your colleague where you share transparently and authentically your intention, something like:
“I know that you and I don’t see eye to eye politically, and I respect our rights to feel differently. But I’d like to share that, no matter where we fall politically, I’m committed to having a positive working relationship. Can we talk a bit about what we both need for that to happen?”
Be open, respectful and manage your emotions in these conversations, and listen well to what the other individual needs from you. And communicate clearly what you need as well. You’ll be amazed at what you can accomplish together with positive intentions set out clearly.
Finally, decide who you want to be and how you want to live, and become that person
Every day, I’m engaged with large, diverse pools of professionals from many countries, backgrounds, socioeconomic and education levels, industries and levels, and I’m coaching professionals who possess the widest range of ideologies and political views.
I’ve found it’s essential to focus on finding as much commonality and mutual areas of interest and connection as possible, so that we can work together and grow together, not resent each other and feel misunderstood, judged or alienated.
I’ve decided that it’s most important to find pathways to connection that are mutually supportive, and that means we are all committed to focusing not on our differences but on our similar goals and visions instead.
To make a more positive impact at work, and forge stronger connections and relationships with the people you work with, including those you vehemently disagree deeply with, start by getting clearer about what you want.
Answer these questions:
1. What do you want to stand for, in how you operate as a person, and how you behave professionally?
2. What traits do you want to be known for and what specific behaviors and communication approaches do you want others to emulate?
3. Who do you look up to and why? Are these people making a positive difference in the lives of others?
4. What type of leader do you want to be and become for others?
5. How would you ideally want others to treat you, when they disagree strongly with your views?
6. Finally, what’s most important to you—being “right” or being productive, happy and successful?
Every day, it’s a choice how you show up and behave—as a leader, manager, and individual contributor. Determine now, especially in these difficult times, exactly how you want others to experience you, and the impact you want to make, and the quality of relationships you wish to form. Then modify your mindset, behavior and communication so that you are a true reflection of the most powerful and positive version of you.
In the words of Maya Angelou:
“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
Kathy Caprino is a career and leadership coach, speaker, trainer and author of The Most Powerful You: 7 Bravery-Boosting Paths to Career Bliss. She helps professional women build their best careers through her Career & Leadership Breakthrough programs and Finding Brave podcast.