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How to Deal with Sizzling Topics At Work

With the Presidential election being such a hot topic right now, no matter which side you’re on, we decided to write an article about how you handle such sizzling issues when you step into work. Imagine this scenario:

You watched the Presidential debates and really thought your candidate rocked. Heading into the office you are looking forward to having some fun debating about a few of the highlights. You see Wally, your co-worker, is in his office. So you get a coffee and stick your head in through the half open door.

“Hey Wally! How about that debate… “ You stop suddenly as you take in the sticker on the back of his laptop now in clear view. He’s for the other candidate. What?! You pull your head back quickly, making an excuse that your phone is ringing and you have to go get it.

“Talk later!” you call out as you move away as fast as you can.

Wow! You just assumed your friends and your teammates would be on the same page as you – especially during this election. What now?!

Frankly, without any further dialogue, it is very likely that your day will be one that’s not as productive. Plus, now there’s distance between you and one of your teammates.

Let’s face it, when we are watching on TV and see people with very passionate opinions different than our own passionate opinion, it is easy to keep distance. Maybe you even yell at the screen about how crazy or simply ignorant those people are! But when it’s someone you work with, or know personally, that is not so easy.

Of course, there are work policies and recommendations to keep politics out of the office, which I can even understand. However, think about it. These are times when people care deeply about what’s happening, and without any path to communicate in the office about the impact of these differences, it is likely to lead to a low resourced workforce, for you or for the people that work for you. Simply shutting up about it not always a sufficient solution.

So how do we address sizzling topics at work?

We believe it is valuable and important to make it safe for people to talk about the impact of the differences without fighting to be right about the issues.

We believe it’s the job of the leader and the organization to create an environment that allows for people to show up fully and be able to address and dialogue about issues that are strongly impacting their hearts and minds. Not just the ones that directly relate to the business’s bottom line, but those universal events that demand some type of space for people to show up and not just bury their views until they are back home.

So how do you do that as a leader?

It involves making space in team meetings for people to bring up issues that are having an impact on them. Don’t expect people to jump in first. As the leader you may have to prime the pump, meaning go first. Here’s an example of you as the leader speaking up: “

Look I know there’s a lot happening with the election coming up and tragic headlines in the news. I want us to feel good at work, which means being able to speak up about what matters most. Sure, we won’t be working toward resolving global issues, but if we don’t at least acknowledge our differences and talk about the impact it may be having on us, we may be creating more problems.”

“I’ll be the first to say, I am finding this election hard. I have a strong opinion and sometimes find it very uncomfortable when one of you is on the opposite side. I don’t think it’s about wanting to convince you, but at least saying I think differently – helps.”

“Is anyone else struggling with that?”

In doing this you open the door for your people to acknowledge that yes they are having a hard time, without getting into who is right or wrong. When people acknowledge where they are bracing, it’s like taking a deep breath, and they then have more resources available for the work at hand.

So it’s the job of the leader to open the door, but maybe you work for a leader who isn’t so willing to make a space. What then?

Remember those two ingredients we keep talking about: Vulnerability and Curiosity. If those concepts are new to you watch our TEDx Talk: Conflict – Use It, Don’t Defuse It!

Let’s go back to the earlier situation.

You see that laptop sticker, and you feel the wave of discomfort that you two are on different sides.

Vulnerability – Make It About You

Remember Wally is a teammate and not the enemy!

Take a breath.

Take another one.

Now notice what you are feeling.

Before jumping to a reaction, simply acknowledge to yourself that you were caught by surprise.

You don’t have to dive into the issues or avoid each other.

Now, try speaking about how you feel out loud.

Often just saying something about your reaction such as,

“Wally, I realized I was going to talk to you about the debate, and now I am thinking may be we won’t agree. I am a little nervous about that.”


“I admit I am really struggling with this election. I feel strongly for my candidate and am opposed to yours. I want to be curious about your position, but have to admit sometimes I am not.”

Both of these responses are more about you – not about the other person or the issue.

Next Curiosity

“I saw your bumper sticker, I am assuming you are for ________. Tell me something about why you think ____________ is a better choice for you?”


“Boy, I have had such a reaction with people who think differently than me on this election. What is weird for me now is that I know you, and I agree on lots of different issues. I am so surprised we don’t agree on this election. I would like to hear more from you because I am interested in other points of view.”

These are just a couple examples of how you could start a dialogue.

Times can be difficult with elections, with heated headlines. It’s more important than ever to not just avoid or blow up, but to show up and be curious.

Remember on the other side of that different opinion is a person – a heart-pumping person!

CrisMarie Campbell and Susan Clarke

Coaches, Business Consultants, Speakers and Authors of The Beauty of Conflict

CrisMarie and Susan work leaders and teams, couples in business, and professional women.

They help turnaround dysfunctional teams into high performing, cohesive teams who trust each other, deal with differences directly, and have clarity and alignment on their business strategy so they create great results.

Check out their website: www.thriveinc.com. Connect with CrisMarie and Susan on LinkedIn. Watch their TEDx Talk: Conflict – Use It, Don’t Defuse It! Find your copy of The Beauty of Conflict: Harnessing Your Team's Competitive Advantage here.


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