In the past couple of days, there has been a construction of flats coming up next to where I live. In the mornings, as I work from home, I often hear the workers at their workplace engaging in debates on all kinds of current issues.
They extensively discussed the NASA line-up, the just concluded political parties primaries, and with lots of emotions, the escalating basic commodities prices.
They were healthy debates and each person had strong opinions and thought to be solutions.
However, there were moments when their commentary became quite offensive and animated leading to verbal confrontations that were an inch away from getting physical. At this point the foreman would remind them to get back to their work.
Socio-political debates seem to be quite common in various working environments. After all, everyone has an opinion on everything.
Early morning radio talk shows often invite listeners to share their views on a variety of social and even intimate matters. Panels on television shows ask viewers to text their queries and responses for opinion counts at the end of the broadcast.
Armchair analysts are not just the preserve of prime time news. You’ll find them in both formal and informal environments.
They will always crowd around your local newspaper vendor, you will get them in alcohol and chapati dens in your neighborhood and, take what is commonly referred to as “water cooler” breaks at the office.
They discuss news events and their feelings about them based on personal experience and political inclinations.
Such discussions can be a healthy way of bonding with workmates, friends and colleagues. However, if unregulated, they can become quite aggressive especially when disagreements and differences in point of view arise.
Disagreements can affect the relationship between workmates and become detrimental to teamwork and general organizational productivity.
Communication experts say that “a wrong word or a misconstrued meaning in the midst of a conflict is like gasoline on a flame.”
Political correctness is not limited to understanding facts or having the strongest opinion. It also means understanding where to relay your opinion and the thing right to say depending on your audience.
Some argue that political correctness is a form of censorship, which leads to dishonest portrayal. However, research shows that anarchy and true creativity are not interchangeable ideals.
Regulation of free speech does not affect the productivity or inventiveness of individuals in a workplace. Rather, it enables them to be more aware of each other.
In formal organisations, political correctness enables you to maintain a healthy relationship with co-workers and can even earn you the respect of seniors and superiors. In fact, a 2014 study by Cornell University found that political correctness in the workplace boosts the creativity of mixed-sex work teams.
The lead scholar of the study, Jack Goncalo, argues that “it goes beyond moral ground as a practical foundation for creativity because it has the potential for profit-making.”
However, some workmates use these platforms as a means of antagonizing or vilifying you, especially if they perceive you to be a threat to their position.
To avoid unnecessary confrontations, do not jump into every argument you hear or assume that yours is the correct perspective. Sometimes it helps to listen.
Consider your audience and engage with them accordingly. Know your boundaries and know when to step away from a discussion, especially when it becomes too personal or derogatory.
Nevertheless, off-topic workplace discussions are healthy. They relieve the pressure of your job and enable you to bond with workmates in a mature manner.
You should not, however, let such discussion affect your relationship with workmates, subordinates or superiors as it can be detrimental to your career and your ability to work with others in the organization.
Article by Beverly Ochieng’