Culture is …Video

Welcome to our exploration of workplace culture, where today, we’re delving into a critical but often under-discussed element: How we handle divisive conversations, political debates, and other triggering hot topics. This critical aspect of organizational culture is often avoided, yet it significantly shapes our work environment.

Culture Is… What You Encourage

Culture is about more than just the values written in your company handbook or the mission statement on your website. It’s about what you encourage day in and day out. When you applaud collaboration, innovation, and respect, you actively encourage a culture of inclusivity and growth. On the flip side, if you’re cheering on or silently endorsing conversations that polarize your team, you’re equally shaping the culture – but perhaps not in the way you intend.

Culture Is… What You Reward

Rewards in a workplace aren’t limited to bonuses or promotions. They encompass the subtle nods of approval, the public acknowledgments, and the types of behaviors that get a pass. If your reward system, intentionally or unintentionally, honors those who dominate conversations with divisive topics or political debates, then you’re setting a precedent. It tells your team that these behaviors lead to recognition and success in your organization.

Culture Is… What You Tolerate

Tolerance is a double-edged sword. On one hand, it fosters an environment of acceptance and understanding. On the other, what you tolerate can also undermine your cultural goals. If you find that your workplace is rife with triggering hot topics and political debates that create discomfort or division, it’s time to reflect. Are these discussions happening because they are tolerated? Remember, what you allow is what will continue.

Navigating Divisive Conversations

Navigating through divisive conversations in the workplace requires a delicate balance. It’s not about stifling free speech or curbing healthy debates. It’s about creating a space where such discussions are respectful, empathetic, and a common understanding that the goal is not to win an argument but to enrich our perspectives.

  1. Establish Clear Guidelines: Have a clear policy on acceptable and respectful dialogue within your organization. This clarity doesn’t mean banning all sensitive topics but setting boundaries on how, where, and when discussions happen.
  2. Promote Active Listening: Encourage an environment where employees listen to understand, not just to respond. Active listening fosters empathy and understanding, even when opinions differ.
  3. Foster a Culture of Respect: Make it clear that while diverse opinions are welcome, they must be expressed respectfully and considerately without demeaning others. No one should feel forced into a conversation they don’t want to have. When you focus on what’s respectful, you will never get to what’s illegal.
  4. Lead by Example: Leaders must model the behavior they want to see. Engage in sensitive discussions with the maturity and respect you expect from your team.
  5. Provide Training and Resources: Offer workshops and training sessions on effective communication, conflict resolution, diversity, and inclusion. Equip your team with the skills to handle challenging conversations constructively.

Considering a real-life scenario to explore leadership’s impact on culture is helpful. Let’s talk about Tracy, a manager known for her opinionated nature and love for discussing hot topics. While her intentions might not be malicious, her approach to conversations has become a point of concern.

Tracy’s Story

Department manager Tracy is known for her vibrant personality and zeal for engaging in spirited debates on controversial topics. Her conversations, often brimming with personal opinions and anecdotes, are a regular feature in the office. While some appreciate her honesty, many of her team members find these discussions uncomfortable and intrusive, particularly when Tracy directs personal questions at them.

Her staff often feels coerced into participating in these conversations. They worry that not engaging with Tracy or disagreeing with her viewpoints might affect their standing in the team. This fear is not unfounded, as some observed a pattern where Tracy becomes noticeably cold or less communicative with those who don’t indulge her conversational style. In a few instances, team members have reported what they perceive as subtle forms of retaliation for not aligning with her views.

The Impact of Tracy’s Approach

Tracy’s behavior illustrates a critical issue in workplace culture. As a manager, she holds a position of power, making her actions and words even more influential. Her tendency to dominate discussions with personal opinions and probing personal questions can quickly spiral into uncomfortable or even inappropriate territory. Given the power dynamics at play, this behavior disrupts the team’s harmony and risks crossing the line into areas of illegal speech and retaliation.

A Learning Moment

Tracy’s story is a cautionary tale about the fine line between open, healthy discussions and conversations that inadvertently create a toxic work environment. It highlights the need for managers, who are held to a higher standard, to be particularly mindful of their speech and behavior. The importance of respecting personal boundaries and understanding the impact of their words and actions on their team cannot be overstated.

In closing, Tracy’s case serves as a reminder of the responsibility that comes with leadership positions. Managers must foster a culture of respect, inclusivity, and professionalism, ensuring that all conversations around sensitive topics are considerate of all participants.

Let’s intentionally create a workplace culture that respects individual boundaries and encourages healthy, inclusive dialogue.

Let’s delve deeper into Tracy’s story to understand the broader implications of such scenarios on organizational culture.

Tracy’s Story: A Deeper Look

When team members voiced concerns about Tracy’s tactless and dominating conversation style, the response from leadership was dismissive. They were told, “That’s just how Tracy is; she doesn’t mean anything by it.” This reaction from the top echelons not only tolerated Tracy’s behavior but, in a way, rewarded it. Tracy, seen as an integral part of the team, was allowed to set the tone for what was acceptable in their culture.

The Consequences for Organizational Culture

  1. Eroding Trust and Respect: When leadership dismisses concerns about a manager’s behavior, it conveys that employee wellbeing is not a priority. This message erodes trust and respect, foundational to a healthy workplace culture.
  2. Creating a Toxic Environment: Tolerating such behavior can lead to a toxic work environment. Employees may feel undervalued and unsafe, leading to decreased morale and engagement.
  3. Legal and Ethical Risks: Continuously overlooking a manager’s inappropriate behavior can put the organization at risk of legal issues. Leadership’s dismissal of complaints after being put on notice could endorse discrimination, harassment, or retaliation, all of which have profound legal implications.
  4. Impact on Productivity and Retention: A workplace where employees feel unheard and disrespected can lead to higher turnover rates and lower productivity. Talented individuals are more likely to leave for a more inclusive and respectful work environment.
  5. Damaging the Organization’s Reputation: Word of these workplace dynamics can spread, harming the organization’s reputation in the industry. Affecting not only the existing workforce but also the organization’s ability to attract new talent.

Addressing the Issue

The case of Tracy highlights the necessity for leadership to address and rectify such behaviors actively. It’s not an option; leaders must listen to employee concerns, take them seriously, and take appropriate action. How leadership responds to issues like Tracy’s sets a precedent for the organization. Tolerating inappropriate behavior under the guise of “that’s just how she is” can negatively affect the organization’s culture, employee satisfaction, and overall success.

The Reality in Numbers

A startling statistic reveals that only about 8% of employers have any policy regarding appropriate communication in the workplace. This gap in policy may seem minor, but its impact on workplace culture is profound. It indicates that many organizations may unintentionally allow a culture where divisive or inappropriate conversations flourish, impacting team harmony and productivity.

Why Filters Are Essential in the Workplace

Just as we naturally apply filters in various social settings – refraining from specific topics or behaviors in front of our parents, in court, or at a place of worship – similar filters are crucial in a professional environment. The workplace demands its own set of filters to maintain a respectful, inclusive atmosphere. Subjects that can spiral into discrimination, gender bias, ageism, or other illegal remarks have no place in at work.

A Call for Respectful Conversation

Since many employers lack policies around appropriate conversations, it’s clear that we must pivot our focus toward fostering respectful conversations and behaviors. This shift is not about suppressing free speech but nurturing a culture where every team member feels valued, heard, and respected.

Leading by Example

As leaders, we must model the behavior we wish to see. Engage in discussions with maturity and respect, and be quick to address situations that contradict respectful conversation.

Your Culture Reflection

Remember, your organization’s culture reflects what you encourage, reward, and tolerate. Let’s intentionally and proactively shape a workplace culture rooted in understanding, respect, and inclusivity. As we strive to create this environment, let’s be mindful of the conversations we encourage and the behaviors we endorse.

Written by,

Bernadette Jones, SHRM-SCP, SPHR, CEO

Respect in the Workplace Starts With Me™ | Culture-First HR Solutions WBENC & WOSB Certified | Accredited Leadership Coach | DEIB Trainer – San Francisco – Oakland Bay Area