There’s an old adage never to discuss religion and politics. Unfortunately, it seems like discussing politics is unavoidable these days — and for good reason.

For a lot of us, the crisis in our political system is a cause for alarm, and it’s difficult to stop thinking or talking about it. But finding the balance with those you disagree with politically can be enormously difficult, especially in a day and age where people are more divided than ever.

These politically charged times are not going to end any time soon, so we decided it was time to seek some help. Today, we’re joined by two guests. Our first guest is Eric Pliner, managing director of the Americas for YSC Consulting. After that, we are joined by Steve Paskoff, the founder of ELI, a training company that helps organizations solve the problem of bad behavior in the workplace. Together, the two cover everything you need to know about navigating water cooler conversations in these turbulent times.

Listen to the full conversation or read the recap below. Subscribe so you never miss an episode.

Why Are We So Angry?

The idea that we have politics on our minds isn’t so unique, says Pliner. “I think people have always talked about things and always had different ways of engaging,” he explains.

However, what makes this current moment in time different is the emotional responses it triggers in all of us. Pliner believes that part of the reason for this is the nonstop nature of our news cycle. With internet access being so ubiquitous, it’s easy to catch up on the news of the day — and it’s just as easy for us to form an opinion on it.

Perhaps it’s our instantaneous news cycle, or maybe it’s something deeper. But the other big change that Pliner has noticed is that people have become much more defensive of their political views, and they are more fearful than ever before of expressing their political views at work, regardless of where they sit on the political spectrum. “The common experience now is feeling threatened or uncomfortable, whereas before the common experience might have been just being part of a workplace together.”

Give People More

The other side effect of our tumultuous times is what we can call a bit of a spiritual crisis. No, this is not a Jimmy Carter malaise, but something completely different. “A lot of us, leaders included, are thinking about the existential questions in ways that perhaps were not as much a part of our day to day existence in the past,” Pliner explains.

In short, a paycheck is not enough for many at work. What they are seeking is a great sense of fulfillment. “What we do know is that people are willing to sacrifice some aspects of comp if it means that they get more out of every day,” Pliner says. So make sure your organization is focused on things beyond growth and shareholder value. Find how you can make an actionable difference in the world. “It’s not enough to put your values on the wall. You have to live them in how you interact every day,” Pliner says.

Building these values has an effect beyond retention: it unites your employees with a common goal, no matter if they are blue, red or somewhere in between.

The Role of HR

Of course, HR has a massive role to play in ensuring that the office is a comfortable place for every employee. Unfortunately, no matter how much hard work we put in, conflicts can arise.

When thinking about the role of HR, Paskoff believes that HR must remember that their role has to be seen as a business issue. “The principle that we have is that behavior helps drive results,” he says. This means that HR must commit to early intervention when conflict arises. “The sooner you talk about [an issue] at the lower level of intervention, the more likely you are to get quick results that minimize disruption, harm and damage,” he continues.

HR must also commit to clear communication with employees about the standards it expects. After all, Paskoff points out, discussing your organization’s values and modeling behavior have a very low impact on your budget. In fact, they cost absolutely nothing.

Resources Mentioned in This Episode

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