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Gone are the days of avoiding politics and religion at the dinner table. Today, we often wear our opinions and beliefs on our sleeves, and divisive views dominate the news. Employees are increasingly expressing support or dissent for various causes and issues and expect their workplaces to take a stand. With a major election next year and tensions bound to arise throughout the process, now is the time for you to invest in your company’s cultural foundation so that no matter what the circumstances, team cohesion and productivity won’t be collateral damage from the election his bike.
This climate can be treacherous to business leaders trying to unite teams for productive goals. Employers who remain silent or whose views end up on an unpopular side of the debate risk sowing discord – in fact, 40% of employees would consider quitting their job if their leader took a position they don’t agree with agreed, according to a recent study. CNBC|Momentive Workforce Survey. However, often silence can also be misinterpreted, or worse, become a void filled by the opinions of others that may not be in the best interest of the company.
We all want to experience psychological safety in the workplace and have the opportunity to express our opinion. If your employees trust that the organization and the team are behind them, they will be more willing to cooperate and pull together. This starts by doing what you say: address your employees’ concerns, lead fireside chats where your door is open to anyone of any skill level, or send thoughtful and well-constructed emails that acknowledge the turmoil among your teams.
Related: How the Best Executives Show Leadership in Times of Uncertainty
If you can find ways to balance the differences and unions within your teams, you can discover that a company can be a fine example of diversity, an antidote to the echo chambers we find online, and a real opportunity to understand others. Here are three ways you can become more proactive in difficult conversations in your company and build a strong foundation to weather combative times:
1. Establish clear cultural values from the start
The belligerent atmosphere around company values may prompt you to take a neutral stance everywhere, but staying silent won’t prevent gaps from appearing. Instead of, you want to be proactive like Salesforce on creating shared values that build a culture of trust and respect for individual beliefs. Since 2015, Salesforce has publicly disclosed its steps to make employee compensation more equitable and has spoken out against discriminatory laws.
For strong cultural values to exist within your organization and to have alignment among all employees, you need to start from the beginning for a consistent experience. When new hires arrive, welcome them with a transparent conversation about what behaviors are expected to reflect company values and how commitment to these behaviors plays a critical role in the company’s success. Also invite them to call you if they don’t see those values in action so they know no one is exempt from these values.
While having discussions about culture can be challenging, it will be much easier and healthier to have conversations now rather than when things go wrong. Set expectations from the start of your working relationships (or as soon as possible). When problems arise, you already have a shared language to handle it.
Related: Why You Should Be Concerned About Psychological Safety in the Workplace
2. Remind each other what makes you you
Create a shared culture, but don’t ignore differences either. Your differences make you unique as a group of people and as a company. In addition, your different views can fuel creativity and growth and helps you connect with a wider audience.
When acknowledging differences as a leader, it’s important to remember that not every moment is ideal for these conversations. Again, a good rule of thumb is to be proactive in these discussions rather than waiting for a misunderstanding to arise.
Make time to get to know each other better. Ask your teams what differences they bring up and give them the opportunity to teach you the best language to use when talking about those differences.
3. Come together for a common goal
Twice a month, I send emails to my team on Fridays to discuss recent events and reinforce our common goal. With the media leaning more on divisive language, I choose to talk about shared goals and challenges so the team can remember that we have more in common than we initially think. In a recent email I ended up writing, “I look forward to sharing stories as we look for those similarities in places we may have overlooked in the past. Just as our acts of kindness have a ripple effect create, our search for and celebration of commonality can do the same.”
Related: How to turn company values into shared employee beliefs
Despite differences, shared beliefs can be central themes in your team’s story. When it gets hairy in the political world, you can lean on these shared beliefs and use them to lean on when you talk about differences. What could be your common goal?
Since I started sharing more of my full self with my team, they started reciprocating, creating a very empowering and trusting culture. The best path to building an empathetic culture is in your hands and cultivated primarily through your modeling and behavior. Ask yourself what is your behavior? How does your team feel after interacting with you?
If you are truly and authentically empathetic, your team will learn to do the same. It becomes a cultural norm. And the company will attract the type of people who can help that culture flourish exponentially.