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Is it just me, or does it appear that everywhere you turn people are talking about it? What is it? It is a topic they have passion and an opinion about. The topics today tend to revolve around politics, transgender bathrooms, women’s rights, global warming, religion, the Oscar’s … you name it.

So, what do you do when these taboo topics enter the workplace? What used to be casual coffee conversation about a restaurant or the weather has now become a more heated debate intended to share an idea or opinion with the desire to “shift your thinking and change your mind”. What is a business owner, leader or HR professional to do?

Your ultimate desire as a business leader is to have a productive, customer focused, team oriented workforce. I am certain you have spent a lot of time, money and effort recruiting a bright group of people to support your business. You have hired people you trust with your brand, people who are problem solvers, those that can make decisions that add value to your customers, business and each other. If they can make decisions that impact your business chances are they can make up their own mind about these topics.

Just imagine this situation, a fellow employee talks about their political view or favorite movie and you share a different opinion. Do you engage in verbal sparring or keep your mouth shut? Do you pretend you agree and then avoid this person in the office? If this is the truth for you or your employees, then the coffee conversations are “no win” and are dividing your workforce versus bringing them together.

Clients have asked, “How should I handle this”?
– Remind your employees of your mission and your code of conduct. The code of conduct is how you treat your customers and each other in the workplace.
– Set clear expectations regarding the types of conversations that are appropriate in the workplace. In my house this was called the “Mommy rule”!
– When people ask if they can have a few minutes of your time to share these ideas or opinions, kindly tell them that you are busy and that our goal is to remain productive and focused.
– When you see people gathered to discuss these issues, remind them that everyone may not share the same opinion and that the goal of the company is to bring people together.
– If this behavior continues and someone gets vocal and uses the workplace as their stage or podium, stop this behavior immediately and send a clear message that this is not OK.

The beginning of the year typically brings a renewed energy focused on customer acquisition, business building and team development; don’t let anything get in the way of those goals. No one knows what tomorrow will bring in the arena of politics, global warming, religion, or the Oscars and the best approach is to focus on the business at hand and take it one day at a time.