Navigating difficult topics at work

Navigating difficult topics at work

By Jean Roque, President & Founder, Trüpp.

In the past year, Portland residents have witnessed an increased level of tension and polarization. Regardless of where you fall on the political spectrum, maintaining a workplace rooted in inclusion can be tricky in an environment where emotions and convictions run deep. Here are some techniques for fostering a healthy and welcoming work environment.

Address the ‘Elephant’. It’s in the room, so why make it more uncomfortable than it needs to be? Rather than allowing emotionally-charged topics to be swept under the rug, take initiative by scheduling time for facilitated discussion. These discussions should focus on how issues may be impacting individuals, the work environment, or interactions with clients, vendors and partners, and not the merit of various beliefs.

Provide Tools. If you identify a particular issue that is impacting your employees, equip them with how to address that issue effectively. On your own or with expert assistance, provide a training session specifically focused on engendering a level of sensitivity and awareness. If facilitated properly, your employees will feel safe to discuss real-world situations and develop strategies for maintaining healthy boundaries.

Hold People Accountable. Ensure employees are held accountable for maintaining healthy boundaries. If an employee crosses one of those boundaries, facilitate an honest and non-judgmental conversation with them about how their behaviors, not their opinions, need to change.

Focus on Values. Choose to embrace company values that encourage positive, respectful and inclusive behavior amongst its employees, rather than focusing on policy enforcement. Leaders and frontline managers are key in setting the example for living out these behaviors and redirecting employee actions and conversations to align with company values.

Create Synergy. As the employer, this is a perfect opportunity to structure events (new product launch, employee volunteer day) where employees work together to achieve a shared goal. By emphasizing common goals and creating activities where they can be celebrated, you’re encouraging employees to value their diversity rather than see it as something that sets them apart.

Support Awareness. It’s natural to assume that those we work with and live near share the same views as we do. Gently challenge yourself and your employees to recognize and value the fact that everyone has their own experiences, thoughts, feelings, ideals, and identity they validly embrace. By doing this, and by recognizing that these differences can contribute to real or perceived bias, discrimination, or disrespect in our employees’ lives or in our workplace, you are supporting a work environment that is more tolerant, appreciative of diversity, and genuinely inclusive.

As a business owner in Portland, Oregon, I have many employees who were shocked, fearful, and depressed after the Presidential election. I empathized with these employees; yet, I also recognized that we have employees for whom the election results created a sense of hope.

On election night, I drafted an email to my employees recognizing how the election results were likely to be a topic of conversation, polarized emotions, and anxiety for our clients as well as our coworkers. I encouraged my team to recognize that even in our “blue” state, a spectrum of views exists and to be mindful with client and coworker interactions. I concluded the email by highlighting those areas in which we could come together, including the values that are held within our organization.

While we can’t prevent what is occurring in the world around us, creating an environment where a diverse population of employees is respected, valued and included will always be good for business.


This article was originally written for and published by the Portland Business Journal. You may view the original article here with a PBJ subscription.