Office politics has got more passionate and polarised. How to deal with it?

RASHMEE ROSHAN LALL November 13, 2020

Photo by Nastuh Abootalebi on Unsplash

The US election was the first global event since the pandemic hit to have occurred without multiple watercooler conversations in multiple offices.

With the shared physical workspace unavailable for the moment, did virtual watercooler moments about the nail-biter on in the US prove a suitable replacement?

How did that go for American workers especially, for whom the political has become very personal?

This is a serious issue, something Harvard Business Review noted ahead of the US election.

“Politics around the world seem to be getting more and more divisive, and it’s impossible for the topic not to enter into our everyday conversations — including those that happen at work.”

So what should managers do, it asked. Ban political talk? Lay down ground rules for these conversations? Above all, how to make sure that people don’t harbour grudges against colleagues who don’t share their beliefs?

There are no rules as such, just common sense for a polarized, pandemic-weary period. HBR quotes Emily Gregory, a vice president at VitalSmarts, the leadership training company to ensure that the “workplace remains respectful and productive” even when viewpoints clash.

It’s important, she says to model inclusiveness, acknowledge differences and encourage respect for diverse opinions.

Here are some points from HBR’s checklist for how to manage the new office politics:

** Don’t ban political talk (because you can’t).

** Equally, don’t force it.

** Establish the rules of engagement.

** Call out inappropriate comments.

** Have one-on-ones, as needed.

** Foster open-mindedness to the extent you can.

** Look for ideas/ advice from relevant outside sources.

Makes pretty good sense, not just for the office.