Diversity. It’s typically one of the greatest strengths of a thriving business. Yet while differences in skills, backgrounds and opinions can often be harnessed to great effect, inevitably some issues are so fundamental they can instead create tension and conflict, turning a smooth-running workplace into anything but.
There’s arguably no better example than the current debate surrounding the Same-Sex Marriage postal survey being undertaken by the Australian Bureau of Statistics on behalf of the Australian Government. Whatever your personal stance, it begs the question: how do you best manage workplace conflicts that arise from such polarising issues?
All opinions should be heard.
In ELR Executive’s experience, a significant obstacle to an open and honest workplace occurs when staff members feel they’re being ignored – either overtly or through a perceived pressure to remain quiet – regardless of the issue in question. Being heard and having the confidence to speak up are essential to feeling accepted and respected by both your colleagues and management. Others may disagree with your perspective, and they have every right to do so. But when you feel you aren’t being listened to, or at least granted fair opportunity to express your views in the workplace, trouble can quickly begin to brew. Previously productive team members can become disgruntled, disruptive and disillusioned. Worse still, they may just up and leave.
Loud doesn’t always mean right.
Of course, there’s an important difference between being heard and ramming your opinion down the throats of everyone within earshot. The squeaky wheel may get the oil, but it doesn’t mean it’s any more deserving than the others. Managers should be alert to this. In particular, be wary of domineering staff members who are overtly vocal (or even hostile) on polarising issues or move quickly to shut down and ridicule those who share different views. It can border on workplace intimidation and potentially drive an irreparable wedge between team members that could undermine years of team building and far outlive the issue in contention itself.
Management by objective.
It’s human nature to choose sides. But effective management may require you to rise above personal opinions for the greater good of your team – especially when emotions are running high. Rather than becoming bogged down in ‘us versus them’ scenarios, always consider the broader business objectives and use them as your compass, just as you would normally.
Agreeing to disagree.
Consensus is great in theory. But when emotionally-charged issues are at play (even something as innocuous as the refereeing during the football finals could trigger problems in some workplaces!), it can be an idealistic and unattainable goal. No matter how respectful the debate may be, common ground may never be achieved between some team members. Typically the only way to move on is to encourage the parties to respect each other’s right to hold their opinion. In other words, agreeing to disagree.
Ultimately a harmonious workplace is a respectful one. It’s an environment where all team members feel they have the right to speak up and be heard, without fear or favour from their colleagues or managers. Achieve that and you’ll be well on your way to ensuring contentious issues such as the debate surrounding the Same-Sex Marriage postal survey don’t weaken your team or undermine professional relationships. In fact, display strong and respectful leadership and they may even provide an opportunity to strengthen them.