If you want to get a team riled up, drop a political comment into a group conversation and hold on. Politics are more of a third rail at work than when we gather at the Thanksgiving dinner table. I can say with confidence that political conversations frequently do not end well. Oh sure, the casual banter starts off with reasonable engagement, but it quickly devolves into rhetoric as the verbal combatants stop listening and prepare to hurl volleys of poorly regurgitated, I mean, “informed” talking points. People of the same core political views are not immune from this experience as one person is ultimately a little too this-or-that to be a “true” something-or-other. This is not unique to a viewpoint or belief structure. It is an element of partisanship and the information age. While disruptive to the family dynamic when Uncle Joe thinks that Cousin Dave is a “nut job” or “a poorly informed idealist that has no concept of reality,” but it is altogether different when the biases related to these attitudes and opinions enter the workplace.
Political biases are subtle beasts, and they enter the backs of people’s minds, fester, and come out in the least expected and unfair ways. It is wrong, and we like to think that we are above it, but we are not. Biases are part of our human condition, and I fear there may be no escape for us huddled masses. Do you want negative attitudinal biases impacting your project assignments, promotions, or performance reviews? Do not kid yourself into believing that unconscious biases do not factor into these activities.
With that out of the way, here is my ill-informed wish.
We work with people day-in and day-out. Personally, I hate not having all types of intellectual conversations with people I care about because I need to manage the perceptions of my business identity.
As a sidebar, I have been told that I am not “being authentic” as a leader if I worry about my “business identity.” For those that take that position, let’s open an email dialog. I have plenty to share about the importance of managing perceptions and a personal career brand.
Back to my political concerns, I would like to see centrist politics take root once more and have it usher in an environment where politics may be discussed with impunity at the dinner table as much as in the breakroom. People are free to share common themes that have bipartisan support and still have constructive differences with each other that may enhance the collaborative endeavors of the enterprise. Differences make us stronger and help avoid groupthink.
I have no idea how we get there as a society or as companies. Is it too idealistic to even ask? If anyone has a few thoughts or comes across some research, please drop me a note. Until then, we will keep third rail conversations out of the office, miss out on the potential deeper connections with our colleagues, and avoid the pitfalls these topics bring that lurk just beneath their surface.