3 Strategies to Address Political Polarization in the Workplace

Political polarization is on the rise all all over the world, with detrimental penalties for workers and employers alike. Fortunately, new analysis on a phenomenon generally known as the “false polarization bias” finds that we regularly make the issue worse than it needs to be by assuming these with differing political opinions disagree with us way over they really do, and that they dislike us on a private stage. On this piece, the authors draw on a big physique of analysis to supply three methods that may assist managers fight this bias within the office, and thus scale back the detrimental influence of polarization on enterprise outcomes equivalent to worker turnover, productiveness, and job satisfaction. These methods encourage staff and managers alike to change into extra conscious of their very own biases, follow empathy for these with whom they disagree, and collaborate extra successfully with colleagues from throughout the political spectrum.

World wide, partisan allegiances have infiltrated nearly each facet of labor and life. Within the U.S., if you happen to patronize Starbucks, you’re likely a Democrat; Dunkin’ Donuts, a Republican. In Hungary, magazines devoted to hobbies as seemingly benign as fishing and bird-watching are actually split down ideological lines.

Analysis means that politics seep into non-political domains when variations of opinion are considered not merely as disagreements, however as motive to disdain or even loathe the individual holding these views. For instance, research have proven that Individuals have a tendency to treat these with differing political opinions as hypocritical, selfish, and closed-minded, and a majority of each Republicans and Democrats really feel that political polarization is more insurmountable than racial or socioeconomic divisions.

To make sure, there are actual underlying variations of opinion driving these perceptions. However our latest analysis — together with each an intensive literature review and a series of surveys and lab experiments with greater than 4,000 American adults — suggests that folks usually overestimate the extent of disagreement between themselves and members of opposing political teams, the prevalence of utmost beliefs amongst these teams, and the extent to which these individuals view them negatively.

We name this impact “false polarization bias” — and it’s a world phenomenon. A study discovered proof of this bias in individuals from 25 nations all over the world, a lot of which exhibited much more polarization bias than the U.S. The tendency to imagine others dislike us greater than they really do is a common psychological phenomenon, pushed not by any particular political context, however quite by a pure and deep-rooted “us versus them” mentality. And sarcastically, this bias is more likely to drive much more polarization, as our assumptions about different individuals drive us to change into much more positive of our personal political stances.

So what does this imply for firms? Throughout a number of industries, analysis means that exaggerated perceptions of political distinction can significantly increase worker turnover, create hostility between coworkers, and lead staff to attempt to conceal beliefs they really feel could also be considered negatively — all of which might scale back each job satisfaction and effectiveness. This hyperpolarized surroundings additionally implies that each buying and employment selections may be pushed by political leanings, with companies pressured to pick a side to draw prospects and expertise.

Fortunately, whereas this false polarization bias is quite common, the worldwide examine described above additionally recognized a easy but efficient intervention: When researchers merely knowledgeable contributors that they overestimated the extent to which individuals from opposing political teams disliked them, this in flip decreased contributors’ dislike and distrust of these individuals. Primarily based on these findings in addition to our personal analysis, we’ve developed three methods that may assist managers construct consciousness about and thus scale back the efficiency of the false polarization bias on their groups:

1. Construct an surroundings of cooperation, not competitors.

In our analysis, we discovered that constructing a cooperative tradition may help to scale back the false polarization bias. This seems to be completely different in numerous office contexts, however begin is to look at your incentive constructions and exchange aggressive programs with ones that promote cooperation between staff.

For instance, many firms use analysis programs that pressure managers to rank staff, creating an surroundings that feels zero-sum: For each worker who will get a 5, one other should be given a one. As a substitute, managers ought to promote a cooperative mindset. For instance, one London-based regulation agency developed an online tool that enabled staff to award factors to their colleagues, thus incentivizing teammates to work collectively in direction of shared targets. Programs like these create alternatives for workers to attach on a deeper stage and thus start to look previous their political variations.

2. Encourage significant contact between teams.

The most effective methods to beat dangerous stereotypes and assumptions about individuals with completely different political leanings is solely to spend extra time attending to know them. To be clear, this doesn’t imply managers ought to pressure individuals to go to a slew of firm picnics and baseball video games. In actual fact, analysis has proven that in {many professional} settings, individuals usually find yourself hanging out with their very own in-group quite than truly mixing with different teams. As a substitute, managers ought to discover alternatives to construct deeper trust between coworkers who may not in any other case discover themselves interacting.

For instance, NASA organizes excessive wilderness expeditions earlier than missions, throwing workforce members from numerous backgrounds into difficult conditions that fast-track mutual trust-building. Excessive sports activities may not be proper to your workforce, however it’s essential for managers to search out methods to encourage vulnerability and trust between staff. One technique that research has shown to be efficient is to determine a trust-building intermediary: somebody who is aware of each events nicely who can formally or informally assist the event of a relationship between two less-familiar colleagues. There’s no assured resolution to constructing relationships, however no matter managers can do to facilitate deeper connections amongst their groups will go a protracted option to lowering dangerous biases and fostering a extra productive working surroundings.

3. Create a protected surroundings for individuals to share their views.

Analysis reveals that bans on speaking about politics don’t work. As a substitute, managers ought to encourage open and sincere discussions on the particular person, group, and organizational ranges. Leaders should mannequin respect and compassion in political disagreements, demonstrating by instance tips on how to specific doubtlessly controversial views with out alienating coworkers who might disagree.

As well as, studies have also shown that attempting to clarify one thing advanced generally is a humbling and eye-opening expertise. When individuals truly begin speaking about why they favor sure insurance policies, it might assist them notice that they don’t have monopoly on the reality, making them extra open to, and understanding of, completely different views. Whereas battle may be uncomfortable within the brief time period, these sincere conversations may help everybody see that holding a unique opinion doesn’t outline an individual, finally lowering the false polarization bias between coworkers in the long term. You may hypothesize about different individuals’s views all day lengthy, however to really perceive one other individual, you want to talk to them.


All too usually, we assume that if somebody holds completely different political views, it means they don’t like us as an individual — and it’s a brief leap from making that assumption to reciprocating these presumed detrimental emotions. However after we improve our consciousness of our personal biases and follow empathy for these with whom we disagree, we’re more likely to uncover that our variations aren’t as important as they could appear. It’s as much as managers to foster an surroundings that makes it attainable to engage with our political opponents at work, study from each side of those troublesome points, and transfer ahead productively.

https://hbr.org/2021/07/3-strategies-to-address-political-polarization-in-the-workplace?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feedpercent3A+harvardbusiness+%28HBR.orgpercent29 | 3 Methods to Handle Political Polarization within the Office


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