One Stress-Inducing Conversation to Avoid in the Workplace

Author: David McMillin       

The 2016 U.S. campaign season created plenty of worrisome news alerts, but it appears that the real stress started after the election. New research from the American Psychological Association revealed that political discussions are causing some serious problems around the office. In a survey of more than 1,300 U.S. adults, 26 percent of respondents said they feel tense or stressed- out as a result of talking about politics since the election. Before voters went to the polls, that figure stood at 17 percent.

The feelings of personal tension are weighing on relationships with coworkers, too. Thirty-one percent of respondents have witnessed coworkers arguing about politics, and 15 percent indicated that they have actually been part of the arguments. While plenty of positives can come from healthy debates about current issues, the political climate is creating a lot of negatives when it comes to collaboration. Sixteen percent say they now have a more negative view of coworkers, and 18 percent noted an increase in workplace hostility. Thirteen percent said the quality of their work has suffered since the election.

“Employers might prefer to keep the political talk out of the workplace, but the reality is these often-heated discussions have intensified since the election, posting a threat to well-being and business performance,” said David W. Ballard, director of APA’s Center for Organizational Excellence, in a statement on the findings. “Whether it’s about politics or any other difficult conversation on the job, managers and supervisors need to create a work climate where people with diverse opinions and backgrounds can work together toward common goals without their differences creating a toxic environment.”

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Finding Higher Ground for the Event Environment

As leaders in offices aim to make employees feel comfortable sharing their perspectives, Roy Spence, chairman and co-founder of Austin-based advertising agency GSD&M, believes that event professionals must tackle a similar task in breakout rooms and networking receptions. “No matter what you think about this last election,” Spence told an audience of event professionals at Convening Leaders 2017, “all I know is that America has to go to higher ground.”

That ground, Spence believes, can exist at conferences and meetings where different attendees with different backgrounds can disconnect from social media for thoughtful discussions. “You can’t shake hands on Facebook,” Spence said. “You can’t have a meaningful conversation on Twitter.”

“Your mighty purpose right now,” Spence told the PCMA audience, “is to preserve, nourish, and embrace the idea of human connection. You have the noble endeavor of preserving the lost art of heart-to-heart, hand-to-hand, face-to-face, mind-to-mind business.”

For more on the important role that meetings can play in healing the divisions of today’s who’s-side-are-you-on atmosphere, check out “How to Encourage a More Inclusive Meeting Environment.”