“Did you go to the PM’s rally?” asked one of my colleagues as we sat down for lunch. “No, was I supposed to?” her teammate replied. “Folks, no politics at the lunch table,” remonstrated another colleague, and the conversation moved to “safer” topics like movies, food and cricket.
“My friends, you know where to find me,” said one of our classmates as he quit in angst from our college alumni Whatsapp group. The recent Karnataka election results have not only created a rift in the affected parties but also amongst many of us. Friends, relatives, ex-colleagues, neighbours, school and collegemates and all the different groups I have been part of had the same common theme of arguments: Politics and religion.
Why did someone deserving lose? Why did someone win? During the Karnataka polls, the Whatsapp groups, which mostly were home to forwards and birthday wishes, suddenly saw lengthy, angry, personal narratives typed across the clock. But then politics and religion make us emotional; we take sides, we have opinions, and when someone counters them, the ego/rage takes over. It does not matter that these are cousins or friends with close wonderful associations or ex-colleagues with whom crucial projects executed and work trips done with many pleasant memories. Once politics comes in between us, we all forget our past/current associations. The medium of communication makes it even more, easier: WhatsApp! The seamless app creates more mistrust with people with whom you have built relationships outside of the app! The last few days have brought some not-so-pleasant interactions with people with whom otherwise I have loved to hang out!
Besides Politics which other topic evokes similar emotions for you?
Think of people with whom you had altercations because of money; I can recollect being upset with my late dad for not giving me enough money for school trips. The only thing I could then do was to sulk. I remember borrowing or lending money to friends, relatives, and colleagues and how it led to misunderstandings. Financial transactions are a common way for us to judge people or eventually distance ourselves from them. Even at work, have you reflected on how our body language changes when discussing money with our bosses? Let’s say you asked for an “X” hike or bonus, and you got less. Have you observed how our tone/body language changes with colleagues with whom we hang out and share much of our personal time and information?
If you are a manager, there are moments when you feel your team is ungrateful when they demand more money or sometimes the way they seek it. Being stoic is challenging, especially when the topic is ‘money’. Some of us are not trained enough to discuss money matters with our bosses. So, we avoid it, suffer, or quit and remain bitter. If we don’t develop the skills to discuss money non-emotionally, we may need to keep quitting jobs frequently or become an entrepreneur. I can tell you the former is easier than the latter.
Is there a way to express money matters at work without sounding like you are in for a fight or threatening or disrespectful to your colleague? Have you met people post-appraisal who say things like, “Boss, you know I am not here for the money,” and on the other hand, colleagues who opined that the nominal hikes they got were personally humiliating? After an acrimonious fight with his boss, one of my friends got a higher annual bonus and has now sent his CV to seek another job. “I got the bonus I wanted, but I think I might have also crossed the line while seeking it,” he quipped.
Prasad’s daughter topped school. “How many marks did your son get,” I asked my colleague, whose son was expecting his CBSE results. “He is happy, boss, and we have decided that we won’t disclose his marks,” she replied with a smile. I thought that was a normal question, like many other personal questions we ask without batting an eyelid, which actually can be perceived as offensive, leading to potential rifts. Consider some casual questions we ask at work; married, how many kids, divorced? Are the kids with you? But now there are invisible boundaries on what you can ask.
If we can’t discuss important topics like politics in work and social settings, we are stuck talking about traffic and weather, which is more than boring. Some of us buy peace by keeping politics off the table, which is dishonest. It’s dishonest because it assumes that relationships can’t survive serious disagreements, which is untrue. Yes, some of our employers discourage political discussions in their settings. One of my bosses used to ask, “Shall we discuss this over a beer in the evening” and postpone the underlying conflict and tension to the bar. But, irrespective of the venue, these discussions around money, politics, and religion do spill over to work and our day-to-day relationships with colleagues. Engaging in these topics with a spirit of charity is not everybody’s piece of cake.
Our workplace bonding with colleagues results from socialising rather than the nature of the work we collaborate on. This socialising allows us to personally know each other and relate to the person we are. Many of us even share our salaries, family secrets, and personal challenges with our inner circle of colleagues. Part of being valued in a relationship means being heard and having people who care about what you’ve got to say, even if it means listening to their differing views on politics, money, or religion!
Aristotle said, “It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.”
Do you think your workplace conversations have reached that maturity yet?
(The writer is Co-founder of Xpheno, a specialist staffing firm.)