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Gone are the days of avoiding politics and religion at the dinner table. Today, we often wear our opinions and beliefs on our sleeves, and divisive views dominate the news. Employees are increasingly vocalizing their support or dissent for various causes and issues and expecting their places of work to take a stand. With a major election occurring next year, and tensions sure to arise throughout the process, now is the time for you to invest in your company’s cultural foundation so that no matter the circumstances, a team’s cohesion and productivity aren’t collateral damage of the election cycle.
This climate can be treacherous for business leaders trying to unite teams toward productive goals. Employers who stay quiet or whose views land on an unpopular side of the debate risk sparking discord — in fact, 40% of workers would consider quitting their job if their leader took a stance they disagreed with, according to a recent CNBC|Momentive Workforce Survey. Oftentimes, though, quiet can be misconstrued as well, or worse, become a void filled by others’ opinions that may not be in the best interest of the business.
We all want to experience psychological safety in the workplace and have the opportunity for our opinions to be heard. If your employees trust that the organization and team have their back, they’ll be more willing to collaborate and pull together. This begins by walking your talk — address your employees’ concerns, lead “fireside” chats where your door is open to anyone from any level or send thoughtful and well-constructed emails that acknowledge the turmoil affecting your teams.
Related: How The Best Executives Show Leadership in Times of Uncertainty
If you can find ways to balance the differences and unions within your teams, you can discover that a business can be a beautiful example of diversity, an antidote to the echo chambers we find online and a real opportunity to understand others. Here are three ways that you can start being more proactive about the tough conversations in your company and build a strong foundation to weather combative times:
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1. Set clear cultural values from the start
The combative atmosphere around business values may encourage you to take a neutral stance on everything, but staying quiet won’t stop gaps from forming. Instead, you want to be proactive like Salesforce about creating shared values that build a culture of trust and respect for individual beliefs. Since 2015, Salesforce has been public about its moves to make pay within its workforce more equitable and has spoken out against discriminatory legislation.
For strong cultural values to exist within your organization and have alignment between all employees, you have to start from the beginning for a consistent experience. When new hires arrive, welcome them with a transparent conversation about what behaviors are expected that reflect the company values and how commitment to these behaviors plays a critical role in the company’s success. Also, invite them to call you out if they don’t see those values in action so they know that no one is exempt from these values.
While having discussions about culture can be challenging, it will be much easier and healthier to have conversations now instead of when something goes wrong. Set expectations from the beginning of your working relationships (or as soon as you can). When trouble arises, you’ll already have a shared language to tackle it.
Related: Why You Should Care About Psychological Safety in the Workplace
2. Remind one another of what makes you you
Create a shared culture, but don’t ignore differences either. Your differences make you unique as a group of people and as a business. What’s more, your differing views can fuel creativity and growth and helps you to connect with a wider audience.
When acknowledging differences as a leader, it’s important to remember that not every moment is ideal for these conversations. Again, a good rule of thumb is to be proactive about these discussions rather than waiting for a misunderstanding to arise.
Set aside time to get to know each other better. Ask your teams what differences they bring to the table and give them a chance to educate you on the best language to use when talking about those differences.
3. Rally toward a common cause
Twice a month, I send out Friday emails to my team to discuss recent events and double down on our shared purpose. With the media leaning more heavily on divisive language, I choose to talk about shared aims and challenges, so the team can remember that we have more in common than we may initially think. In a recent email, I ended by writing: “I look forward to sharing stories as we seek out those commonalities in places we may have overlooked in the past. Just like our acts of kindness create a ripple effect, our search for and celebration of commonality can do the same.”
Related: How to Turn Company Values Into Shared Employee Beliefs
Despite differences, shared beliefs can be central themes in your team’s narrative. If things get hairy in the political world, you can rest on these shared beliefs, using them to lean on as you talk about dissimilarities. What could your shared purpose be?
Since I began sharing more of my full self with my team, they have begun to reciprocate, creating a highly empowered and trusting culture. The best path toward building an empathetic culture lies in your hands and is cultivated first and foremost through your modeling and behavior. Ask yourself what is your behavior? How does your team feel after interactions with you?
If you are truly and authentically empathetic, your team will learn to do the same. It becomes a cultural norm. And the business will attract the type of people who can help that culture flourish exponentially.