Sticky solutions to your everyday business challenges
Question: After almost two years of fully remote work, my team started returning to work three days a week in February. Going back to the office came with pleasant benefits, like working with more ergonomic furniture and equipment. Unfortunately, it also came with some unpleasantries. I can deal with the fact that my plants died, but I’m having a hard time dealing with one of my colleagues who openly shares her political ideologies with me. I can’t ignore my teammate forever, but I’ve been in a bubble for so long that I don’t have the skills to discuss sensitive topics now that we’re back in the office. Help!
Answer: The polarized climate that has risen in recent years is making its way into the office. Subjects that we considered unacceptable to openly discuss just a few years ago are now permeating the halls of our office spaces, and we need to build new skills to engage in civil dialogue with our co-workers. Here are four steps to help you stay civil when discussing sensitive subjects.
Step 1: Start with where you agree. While it’s tempting to focus on your differences, it’s important to focus on the commonalities that you have with your colleague. When you can identify how you are the same, you can more easily tolerate your differences. Look for overlapping interests. Even with people with whom you might violently disagree. This is the foundation of a civil conversation.
Step 2: Keep an open mind. Think about a time when you were 100% certain that you were right, only to learn that you were mistaken. Hold onto your beliefs and opinions loosely. Instead of thinking about how right you are, try to ask, “Where am I blind? What am I missing?”
In Kim Scott’s book Radical Candor, she talks about the concept of quiet listening. It’s about seeking to understand, not defend or interrupt. And not forming counterarguments in your head while your opponent speaks. This is really difficult to do, but the results are worth the effort.
Step 3: Get your facts straight. Before sharing your opinion, make sure you have solid evidence and a sound argument. Take a beat to fact check what you read on the Internet using a site like Snopes, and watch out for confirmation bias. If you don’t verify your argument, you could easily end up embarrassed.
Step 4: Be willing to state your view with humility. You’re not always right. None of us are. To civilly discuss differences, you’ll need to admit you may be wrong. This is humility. You can diffuse a lot of tension by simply saying, “You know what? You might be right.”
There’s value in opposing opinions, but they may not come out unless you create an environment that’s safe for dissent. Some of your best counsel will be from people you disagree with. Don’t miss out on that because you’re afraid to engage.
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