How to talk about current events at work

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Amy Van Es

The year is 2002. On your way to work, you listen to your brand new iPod. But that’s, like, all you do. There was no Facebook or Twitter, no podcasts, barely a whisper of internet connection unless you were sitting in front of a computer. Maybe you read the local newspaper; the same one that your coworkers read. You got to work, did your job, and headed home.

The year is 2022. The world is experiencing major societal shifts, in large part due to technology. The internet’s prevalence has blurred the line between home and work. It’s increasingly hard to separate your beliefs from your work— and many don’t even want to anymore. Employees want their job to align with their values, and they want to be able to speak openly about what’s going on in the world.

As a business leader, you’re faced with a unique challenge. You want your employees to feel comfortable expressing their opinions in the office... but don’t want those conversations leading to major rifts between your team members.

Below are some pointers that you, as a leader in your organization, can do to help facilitate healthy, productive conversation about difficult topics

Foster a culture of inclusivity

Ensuring that all employees feel equal and have an opportunity to express themselves is vital to a healthy company culture. If you don't, discussing hot-button issues will be left to the loudest and most forthcoming team members— and leave others feeling isolated.

Open a direct line of communication

Make it clear to your team that, if anyone’s feeling particularly affected about a certain topic, they can come to you (or a dedicated HR person, if you have one).

Create educational opportunities

When you notice a specific topic dominating water cooler conversation, you have the opportunity to help employees learn more about it. Offering further education by a professional in the field is a great value-add for your employees, and can help set the tone for future conversations. Just make sure that the educator is committed to inclusivity and neutrality to avoid further division.

Don’t try to win

Leading by example, encourage all parties to make the goal of these difficult conversations understanding different viewpoints, rather than winning the debate.

Dig into the “why” of an opinion

If you’re struggling to understand someone’s opinion, ask them what experiences informed how they now feel. Putting yourself in their shoes and making an effort to understand their perspective is a great way to neutralize your feelings, especially if you sense yourself becoming defensive.

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