21st Century Alchemy. Why politics and religion matter

Several weeks ago, I suggested that a department supervisor should limit the staff’s political talk to personal time. On further reflection, I entirely disagree with my advice and humbly apologise.

The conventional wisdom of avoiding controversial discussions (including politics) is safe, but will never create a vibrant and dynamic 21st Century workplace.

And the articles I write are meant to question traditional perspectives by doubting accepted beliefs and challenging reactions (i.e rethink what you’re thinking). So there’s no room in this column for an old-fashioned mindset.

Just like sport
Regarding political debate at work, some are as fanatical about politics as others are about sports (they’re often both – they’re just fans of any competition). They couldn’t be quiet about politics at a bar, at a funeral and especially at work. If there was a policy on politics, they’d even debate that.

I’m the exact opposite. You won’t see my Facebook page filled with posts or shared posts on any presidential candidate or political issue. It doesn’t mean I’m uninformed or don’t have an opinion. I just don’t share it with everyone – at work or anywhere else.

Killing their passion
Nevertheless, I believe a company culture that encourages debate is critical to employee engagement and fosters a healthy workforce. If you expect the best from your staff, then they need to be themselves – political opinions included.

The people who hotly debate these issues are passionate, and that passion is a fire that should never be quenched. If you tell them to not burn so brightly, then sooner or later, their passion for work will also fade.

Imagine working eight hours a day, five days a week for months and years, and the only thing that fills your time (besides the work) is shallow, bland conversations between people who know nothing about each other. It’d be unbearable. It’d be like holding your breath until you left work.

Ground rules!
So, bring your controversial and potentially unpopular views to work! Just make sure there’s a mutual agreement on some ‘ground rules’. Here are my suggestions.

Embrace diversity – If you honestly believe that ‘diversity’ matters, then you must include political diversity (it’s also the law in Denmark). If someone has a different opinion, accept it or admit you’re a law-breaking hypocrite.

Communication is two-way – Like any conversation, debate is a two-way street. If you want to be heard, you need to learn to listen. Ask what they believe and why, but keep your personal judgments to yourself. This is what they believe, so respectfully listen, even if you don’t agree.

Control your temper – Fans are fanatical, and so are politicos. This means strong emotions and strong opinions, but it doesn’t excuse bullying. Disagree, but with restraint. You’re not wild animals but mighty warriors of the workplace.

Work comes first – Political debate can go viral. If it does, take a break. You’re at work to get results for your customers and your company. That’s everyone’s bottom line.

Politics matter
In the US, the political season has arrived and will only get hotter as the election approaches. But when it’s all over, differences in opinion and debate will remain.

If you want to create the kind of environment where the best employees bring their best and where the best ideas can be discovered and developed, everyone will need to have the freedom to talk – and also the safety and respect to be heard.

Talking about what matters to you not only reveals who you are, but also allows you to bring all your passion to work.  Politics matter and is an exciting and vital part of an individual’s personality that should never be left at the office door.