The sharing of personal opinions in the workplace can trigger all sorts of reactions. If we agree with someone’s opinion, we often feel closer to them and seek them out; if we disagree, we may see them as an adversary and begin to distance ourselves. As a result, personal opinions often have a significant impact on professional relationships.
The degree to which this happens depends mostly on how we react to those who disagree with our opinions.
When we can separate ourselves from the issue being discussed, we often respond in a more measured manner and preserve our working relationships with others. However, when we cannot separate ourselves from the issue, and react personally to those who challenge our viewpoints, we risk needlessly damaging these valuable relationships and connections.
This is more relevant now than ever, with the many strong and contrary opinions being voiced in relation to COVID-19 decisions. There are passionate, opposing views on so many of the issues being discussed, including stay-at-home directives, work-from-home policies, nature and extent of government funding and, most recently, the re-opening of the economy.
In times like this, we need to find a way to respectfully navigate through this diversity without using it as an excuse for further division.
To do so, here are some helpful tips to consider:
- The workplace should not become a platform for excessive campaigning or debates on any one of these issues. No one owns the work environment, regardless of their position, seniority or stature. The work environment does not belong to the loudest or most emotional person. It is a communal space that must allow for and support divergent viewpoints regardless of how “uncomfortable” a person may become when others disagree with them.
- Excessive conversations on these issues, even if respectful in content and tone, are often disrespectful to others’ time and schedules. We need to respect that others come to work, not to hear (or re-hear) our passionate opinions on these matters, but to work.
- Our passion for a particular opinion does not give us the right to pressure or guilt others into agreeing with us. However well-intentioned we might be, it is disrespectful and overbearing to tell others how to feel or what to believe. We have a right to our views, but we don’t have a right to force those views on those around us.
- The fact we disagree on an issue does not mean we are “fighting with each other” or that our relationship is over. It merely means that we see or experience a situation differently based on our circumstances, needs, interests, perspectives, history and beliefs. That’s it.
- We have a right to be “passionate” about our opinions, but we don’t have a right to attack, silence or mock those in opposition to them. Passion will never be a defence to disrespect.
- Disagreements often become disrespectful, dysfunctional and damaging when, through verbal or written communication, we:
- Use inflammatory language, name-calling or non-verbal communication (laughing sarcastically, waving hands dismissively, eye-rolling, smirking, shaking of the head);
- Refer to someone’s lesser position or educational background, political affiliation, race, age, religion, gender, disability or otherwise to minimize or question the validity of their views;
- Attach a sarcastic or condescending tone to our message;
- Refuse to listen to opposing viewpoints respectfully, and instead interrupt, talk over someone or begin talking to someone else;
- Retaliate against those who disagree with us by shunning them or refusing to support them in ways that have nothing to do with our disagreement, such as work-related requests; and
- Gossip about and criticize them to others, both within and outside the workplace, verbally or through emails, texts, social media and otherwise, in a manner that builds cliques, isolation and toxicity.
- Freedom of expression is a right for which we all should be grateful. But with this freedom comes responsibility, particularly in our workplaces; specifically, the responsibility to express our opinions in a manner that respects diversity and inclusion and contributes to a safe, respectful and healthy environment. In my respectful opinion, that’s something to be passionate about.
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