Interpersonal Sensitivity in the Workplace: Lessons from a Heated Election

This week, we all headed to our workplaces—some of us thrilled, some of us devastated, and others of us just sighing in relief that the pre-election banter is over. This year’s election has created a level of animosity that is unparalleled, in some cases pitting coworkers against each other. We all sometimes get annoyed with coworkers and bosses and question their value to the organization, and now we potentially add the knowledge that one of them voted for whichever candidate we couldn’t stand. So what is a good corporate citizen to do? How do we keep our businesses going while returning civility to the workplace after the election?

  1. Focus on the organization’s higher purpose. Don’t let a coworker or even a boss get you down. Keep in mind that you’re each there for a greater purpose, whether it’s making vehicle passengers safe or providing quick, healthy food to consumers, or reporting timely and accurate news. Re-connecting to your job’s purpose will re-focus and re-energize your efforts in your workplace. Successful companies make it a priority to cast clear vision and involve employees in determining the values and behaviors that will make that vision likely.
  2. Share something personal and ask “the other side” to do the same. Often when working with leadership teams, Magnet will do a segment where each person shares personal details—stories about their biggest fear, their favorite boss, their biggest challenge. Just the act of transparent sharing builds trust within the workplace. Too often companies make the mistake of saying, “check your feelings at the door” or “at work, it’s only work”, but that isn’t actually the way humans function and so it isn’t an approach that yields good business results. It’s in the sharing of these stories that we find that other person relatable. When s/he’s relatable, we’re more civil, more empathetic, and more willing to work together.
  3. Actively work on your sensitivity to others. It’s true that interpersonal sensitivity is a personality characteristic and that it’s hard wired (or not) into you by the time you’re about 13, but we all can practice skill-building to bring out our concern for others’ needs. The election showed us that our incoming President is low on this characteristic—that means he’s direct and frank and many times overly so.  This characteristic isn’t just in Mr. Trump. Many corporate leaders—including some of our favorite leadership coaching success stories—are the “old crusty” low interpersonal sensitivity leaders who went from yelling at employees to asking questions to understand their positions, using empathetic language, and generally softening their sharp edges. With coaching and self-awareness and specific strategies we all can be a lot better at noticing and appreciating others’ points of view.
  4. Ask questions vs. assuming intent. Now is the time to curb your skepticism. Skepticism is a real personality “derailer” for a subset of the population. What does this mean? It means people who score overly high on this quality are likely to assume the worst about others’ intentions, be cynical, and default to pulling away from someone rather than seeking to understand their behavior and motivations. Think about someone who voted the way you didn’t. Are you making up a backstory about that person that involves his stupidity or terrible upbringing? If so, it might be your skepticism derailing. When we use personality inventories, we see derailers like Skepticism (and also other fun ones like Arrogance, Risk Aversion, Volatility and more) and coach leaders on how to control those derailers. For skeptics, it usually involves stopping oneself and questioning how you arrived at a conclusion about the other person and then actively seeking more information from the very person you want to avoid.

The days ahead will be challenging as we reconcile the split in our political, election opinions and how we can work with each other. But life and business go on, so let’s find a way to get back to our effectiveness at work.

Magnet Consulting is a people engagement firm which helps organizations of all sizes build culture, assess personality and other characteristics to select and develop leaders and teams. For more information, visit www.MagnetConsulting.com, email info@MagnetConsulting.com or call 1-844-MAGNET3.

By |2018-03-15T01:26:16+00:00November 11th, 2016|