We’ve all been there. A conversation in the break room, a comment made at a company event, a knee-jerk reaction to a current event; when the dynamic in the conversation shifts because someone says something that someone disagrees with. While that situation may be common, the ability to navigate it with tact and maturity is often anything but common. And how we handle open and honest conversations is one of the pillars of healthy relationships and building culture.
“Being taught to avoid talking about politics and religion has led to a lack of understanding of politics and religion. What we should have been taught was how to have a civil conversation about a difficult topic.”
Historically, politics was a much different landscape than it is now. Politics have not always been the center of people’s worldview. Platforms used to be limited to historically political issues, such as tax laws, immigration, and national budgets. Now, you see people centering their entire belief systems around a party platform. Politics now goes beyond what you think are good policies and values, and insists on everything from health to self identity being politicized. But the greater question we as leaders must ask ourselves is, how are we getting over these hurdles within our organizations? That ability to have difficult conversations happens here; now; it plays into everything, not just politics.
So how do you bring your whole self – your beliefs, your values, and your worldview – to work without having a falling out with a co-worker or family member who you need to be able to interact with again tomorrow? How can we as leaders have clarity instead of cloudiness of thought; to make great decisions based on conviction rather than what we think the public perception will approve?
In order to communicate with candor, we need two things: conviction and trust. If our opinions are based on a party platform, what is politically correct, or what someone told us to believe, we will not be able to withstand the heat of healthy and challenging conversations with others about critical topics. Additionally, if there is not a mutual understanding of trust, neither party will feel safe communicating with honesty and authenticity about their worldview.
When the world is telling you that everything is political, it is vital that we understand how to work, lead, and relate from a place of conviction. We need to have the knowledge and maturity to not be swayed by platform initiatives, but maintain convictions that are rooted in values. And that comes through strength and courage.
It requires mental strength to know who we are, what we represent, and what those beliefs are rooted in; to be able to communicate with clarity from a deep knowledge of the roots of our beliefs. It also takes strength of the soul to know that if I can’t find this topic in the Bible, it’s arguably not worth being found. As tempting as it may be to search for scripture to found our base for an argument (which has tremendous value!), sometimes the Bible doesn’t actually back up my beliefs literally or directly, and it takes a humble and responsible strength to admit that.
Similarly, courage is also vital in communicating with conviction. It is our responsibility to muster the guts to communicate our beliefs without holding back; to put ourselves out there even if our beliefs are met with disagreement, judgement, or opposition. Courage doesn’t always show up as a loud and boisterous shout; sometimes courage is a quiet ability to lean in, trust, and open ourselves up to authentic relationships.
Most people come to the table with convictions and values that are motivating their opinion. So they can, understandably, come across strong. As long as that’s coming from authentic and personal beliefs, it isn’t a bad thing, either! It’s when we come to the table with what sounds like strong convictions but are actually parroting someone else’s platform than we are in danger of unnecessary and disingenuous conflict. As leaders, our convictions cannot be tied to politics. We must conjure the strength and courage to pursue truth relentlessly, personally, and authentically, and let that be the place our convictions grow from.
Authentic candor is rooted in mutual trust. We can’t fully be honest in communicating our convictions without feeling a sense of trust with the other person. Nor can we accept with an open mind and open heart what they are communicating back if we don’t trust that what they are saying is true and real. When we communicate with conviction, we are letting down walls and being vulnerable by showing our true selves and being open to who someone else might truly be.
Trust also requires me to realize that I may not be privy to the full context of someone’s perspective or opinion. Their decision, whether that is who to vote for, how to manage their budget, or how to handle a personal situation, might be a reflection of making the best choice out of less than ideal options, rather than a true reflection of what they would choose given open-ended options.
We are called to listen, and to accept disagreement. Just because I’m a Christian doesn’t mean I should hate everyone who doesn’t align with my beliefs. Having convictions isn’t about being rigid; it’s about the undercurrent of my decisions that gives me freedom to respond to people with grace. Communicating convictions with trust is about an open heart and mind.
In summary, while it may not be possible in all workplaces and some people may never feel comfortable engaging in challenging topics, imagine how conversations could be transformed if each of us reading this decided to lean in the next time a divisive topic arises and have a civil conversation.