The Workplace, and the Battery Acid of Political Anger


The Workplace, and the Battery Acid of Political Anger

VIM Executive Coaching clients sometimes act in synchrony without even being aware of each other’s existence. For example, during the same week, an executive leader in the world of banking, another in professional sports and a third in healthcare, may come to me with just slight variations of the same problem.

The inclination might be to say, “Well, that should be an easy one for you, just give them the same answer, the same advice.” In truth, it is the opposite. 

Troubling Trends

As I now reflect upon the current political climate, we are quite troubled here at VIM Executive Coaching at the meanness and anger that sometimes pervades the work environment. Never before in our experience has “politics” so caused a series of workplace reactions so profound and troubling.

Before going any further, I need to make a disclaimer. This post is not political and certainly does not constitute any kind of an endorsement or rejection. This post is about civility, and bringing a level of decorum back into the workplace environment. 

Returning to what I mentioned above, my clients in different industries indeed have different political leanings. A “one size fits all” approach absolutely will not work. Each executive leader must be listened to with respect, compassion and understanding. 

My private feelings are my own. I will share that my clients are all fine people. They are troubled when they hear of managers and workers within their organizations who have openly bickered about politics and many of the issues that seem to be dividing our nation. 

That is a good place to start with a few approaches on how to fix things.

The Tides

Let’s “get out of the office” for a second and go for a walk along the beach. Let’s take with us two mid-level managers, two otherwise effective employees who have been overheard arguing before a meeting in regard to politics. They do little to hide their acrimony and it makes many other employees uncomfortable.

We take the two managers with us on our walk along the beach. Close your own eyes and imagine who they might be. We tell the employees they are only allowed to talk about one thing: the beach. Not politics, not work, not sports, not music or race or religion or gender issues, just the beach.

It is a brilliant, sunny day and there is a gentle surf. We provide them with two comfortable chairs and seat them in the area of the beach between the tides.

We ask them questions such as: “What do you smell?” “How does the water feel on your feet?” “How does the surf sound?” and of course, “How does it feel to be out here?”

My experience tells me that their reflections, while not identical, nevertheless are similar. The ocean smells salty and refreshing; the water feels soothing and invigorating – even healing; the surf sounds calming and peaceful, invariably both are happy to sit there and reflect on something much bigger and more powerful.

Imagine then, one of the managers deciding to wade out into the water and gets knocked down by a powerful wave. “I can’t swim!” exclaims the manager. The other manager would invariably rush to the rescue, or do something to help.

Imagine now

Most of us don’t have ready access to a beach, and of course, the beach is a metaphor. What we do have is ourselves and if we are truthful, much like the beach, underneath our workplace personas and even our politics and biases there is an authentic core that simply wants “to be.” 

We are human, we are not devoid of compassion, we are good people who, like being overwhelmed by a huge wave, are sometimes consumed by opinions, controversies, thoughts and yes, even politics. None of these “feelings” affect the tides. The tides, the water on our feet, then bodies, then – if we don’t move – our entire bodies do change, and the beach itself may shift, but it remains far after our stressors leave.

There is a commonality to us all, as regular as the tides. In teaching ourselves, and in encouraging authenticity and compassion in others, we can collectively try to bring healing. There is no rule that says we have to agree politically, just to acknowledge the beach, our workplace, is always changing and that if we become consumed by our differences rather than similarities we may get swallowed up by the waters.

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