A Manager’s Guide to Handling Political Conflict At Work

The snap General Election has triggered lots of debating in the workplace...

Managers. If you are doing your job properly, you will be looking after an engaged team – a team that cares. This is the Holy Grail of leadership, but managing bright, engaged teams comes great responsibility. Particularly when political beliefs and emotions are running high in, say, the wake of a general election announcement.

In teams that are free-thinking, free-speaking, and comfortable in each other’s company, there can be conflict. Often, this conflict is often self-managed, but occasionally a leader will need to ensure that conflict remains healthy and does not compromise productivity and harmony in the working environment.

So how can you prepare for and handle workplace conflict in the coming months. 

1) Understand and respect the roots of conflict

It is useful to understand why conflict arises – usually from two parties having different objectives, different opinions, different interpretations of a situation, or different views of what constitutes acceptable behaviour.

Tapping in to your emotional intelligence is important here – understanding that, to each party involved in a conflict, their view is correct and is rooted in inherited and developed life influences that you will probably never understand. Political discussion is often an emotionally rooted affair, with strong ideological roots, possible immediate impact on family situations, even immediate impact on work situations and living standards.

2) Foster positive conditions for healthy debate

When questioned on the relationship between the political and creative aspects of her character, Margaret Atwood replied, “When you're writing a novel, you don't want the reader to come out of it voting yes or no to some question. Life is more complicated than that. Reality simply consists of different points of view.” 

This thinking can apply to the relationship between our political and working lives – and the leader’s role as diplomat, encouraging consideration of different perspectives. The best way to do this is to lead by example, respecting the opinions of others and treating political discussion as a way to nurture passion and mutual respect within your team.

3) Formalise the conditions for debate

Point 2 above is all very well, but relies heavily on trust. In the context of HR and political discussion, it is wise to ensure that everyone is aware of the boundaries – what is acceptable and what is not.

This is achievable without compromising a culture of trust and openness. A policy that outlines the ‘rules of the game’ - use of company communications tools for political discussion, how political views should be treated in the context of customer interactions, general prohibition around harassment and retaliation, etc. – will offer you some protection and assurance, and will provide a helping hand to everyone. 

4) Let conversations take place

Let’s be honest. You can’t stop politically charged discussions taking place in the office – it’s everywhere and would you really want to stop the sharing of views in your team / workplace anyway? People care and that is a good thing. Provided discussions take place respectfully and within the boundaries set for courteous debate, a politically engaged workforce can remain productive and harmonious.