I posted a baby goat video on my personal FB page.
An acquaintance who is on the opposite end of the political spectrum commented, "We agree on very little. We agree on this."
This seemingly innocent comment made me realize two important things.
#1. I don't get political on my page. I intentionally don't post anything of an argumentative vein. I do openly support diversity, the arts, and science, which apparently offers insight into my politic leanings. Honestly though, neither one of us fully knows what the other believes.
#2. I bet we agree on a great many things, not just the cuteness factor of baby goats. I value a lot of things the average human values: kindness, cooperation, safety, happiness, honesty, integrity, the importance of family (whatever your definition of that may be), learning, the ability to make a living, etc. I speculate that we could find more things we agree on than not. The problem arises when we read too much into those values or add our own personal context. My valuing learning can be construed into my valuing education, which would be accurate. My valuing learning could also be construed into my looking down on those who are not educated, which would not be accurate.
I'm seeing these concepts playing out on the business stage as well.
People can categorize colleagues, seeing politics as the single defining factor of who they are as individuals. There can be the misconception that everyone around you has the same ideology as yourself, especially if the company culture is particularly liberal or conservative, causing employees to feel free to talk politics in the office. This may attract like-minded colleagues, but it may have the opposite effect on others.
In the current political climate of divisiveness, society is focusing on what separates us rather than what we have in common. The best business practices prioritize collaborating towards a common goal. Having a covert (or openly) politically divisive culture at work is going to hurt your bottom line.
What are your leadership options as we head into this upcoming election?
Model and enforce predetermined office culture. What's your culture policy on politics in the office? Follow it to the letter and call out those, kindly and in private, who don't (if you are in a leadership position). Point out the reasons for the policy and remind them that the work environment needs to be a place that focuses on a common goal. Make sure you are modeling the appropriate behavior since actions speak louder than words. For you to really lead people, this has to be something you believe deep down.
Remind employees of expectations. Be proactive. Don't wait until something inappropriate is said or done and you have to react.
What if you don't have a predetermined office culture?
It's not too late! In fact, it may be the perfect time to get your team together for a respectful discussion on culture. Relate this to your mission statement and your company's values. Call in a culture expert (like me!) to help.
What if you have very strong political convictions?
Define your professional self as opposed to your social self. You should have a business persona that you've intentionally constructed. This is separate from your social personality and personal culture. Decide what's appropriate behavior in business versus what's appropriate behavior socially.
Diversity of ideas is such an asset in business. You don't want to alienate those who believe differently than you do.
You want all your employees to feel respected and safe at work.
You want everyone to come together for the benefit of all (and the company!).
Don't let politics wreck rapport!