Sometimes when you’re a leader you get to decide the rules of your workplace and sometimes you don’t. This is especially true during the COVID pandemic. While some leaders own or operate their own businesses and can set their own policies, many leaders work inside larger organizations that set policies that you and the members of your team may agree or disagree with.
So what do you do when your company sets a COVID policy on masks or vaccinations some or many of your employees disagree with? The key is to be human and focus on the bigger issues behind the opinions.
Here are my best tips taken from years of coaching leaders to talk to their employees about charged topics, whether that has to do with disagreements around strategy or big personalities in the workplace.
1) Get good at helping people feel heard –
Despite how strongly members of your team may express themselves in most instances, what they really want is to be heard. I can’t even tell you how many conflicts I’ve resolved between team members on professional or personal issues, by just listening to them and asking them if they feel like their point of view has been heard.
Listen carefully to what they have to say.
Then reflect that back to them as closely as you can.
Bonus points for letting them know their feelings make sense. (Which can be true whether you agree with their point of view or not)
2) Encourage people to share about underlying feelings and desires –
Often when it comes to divisive topics the biggest disagreements come into the right strategy to take. But if you look underneath those strategies the feelings and needs are often very similar.
On both sides of masking and vaccinations is a desire for safety, autonomy, and respect. If you can get team members to share the feelings and desires underneath their positions you can often find common ground.
3) Help team members think of themselves as leaders vs factions –
A leader is someone who chooses to be responsible for what is happening around them. If you encourage members of your team to think of themselves as leaders who need to both: create safety, as well as, make sure everyone can come to work, you may be surprised by the solutions they come up with.
4) Remind people that safety is always hard to achieve –
At the root of much of the anxiety people feel is a desire to be safe, but two different types of safe. Real safety is hard to create in the world. We take risks all the time.
Instead of playing the safety game with your team, talk about the risks they are and aren’t willing to take. And why those choices matter to them. By moving them away from puritan or moralistic thinking you may be able to help them make choices that feel better for them without becoming polarized.
Final Thoughts –
With divisive topics like COVID or politics, it may seem easier to try and avoid talking about them at all, but a good leader understands the need for healthy debate and even conflict. If you can foster an environment where people are welcome to share their concerns with you and you help them talk out how they can move forward with empathy and consider all sides of an issue, not only will they feel less stressed, you’ll also be helping them develop key leadership and team working skills at the same time.