(Bloomberg) — Coinbase Inc.’s clampdown on discussing politics and activism at work — and the offer of severance packages to employees who don’t want to comply — continues to ripple through the cryptocurrency exchange and Silicon Valley.
Many employees were shocked by Chief Executive Officer Brian Armstrong’s blog post imposing the rules Sunday, and some are concerned that he is trying to stymie discourse that should be happening, according to two people familiar with the situation who asked not to be identified. Neither knew of anyone taking an exit package from the San Francisco-based company, but employees have until Oct. 7 to apply.
Jack Dorsey, Twitter Inc.’s CEO and a noted Bitcoin advocate, criticized Armstrong’s ban on politics, saying late Wednesday the change runs counter to the core principles of cryptocurrencies. Other veterans of the digital-asset industry suggested Armstrong’s stance represents a broader shift taking place in a sector that was founded by computer hackers and libertarian-leaning programmers.
Twitter’s former CEO, Dick Costolo, also weighed in, tweeting that “me-first capitalists who think you can separate society from business are going to be the first people lined up against the wall and shot in the revolution.”
The polarizing 2020 campaign, epitomized by the chaotic debate this week between President Donald Trump and Democratic challenger Joe Biden, has left many companies struggling with how to stay above the fray. But the cryptocurrency industry, built on iconoclastic ideas, faces its own challenges.
“This is highlighting an evolution in crypto culture,” said Adam Draper, a venture capitalist who was an early investor in Coinbase. “Crypto is about the innovation in finance and connecting the world’s financial infrastructure. The culture of the early adopter was idealist and anarchist (which makes it the most vibrant one ever). In order to deliver on the vision of a crypto world, though, we need everyone to be working in it — it needs to transcend idealism and anarchy.”
Since its start in late 2008, Bitcoin has enabled use of money without the help of — or censure from — central authorities like banks or governments. Many of the early advocates still exercise an outsize influence through their large coin holdings and crypto startup investments.
Then there’s the Silicon Valley tech culture: working long hours — essentially, putting everything else second to focus on the job. This extreme drive to succeed has produced world-changing companies such as Google and Facebook Inc., though Armstrong cited them as examples of enterprises now being hampered by politics and activism.
Coinbase has tried to navigate the two cultures since Armstrong, 37, co-founded the company in 2012. The firm grew to become the biggest U.S. cryptocurrency spot exchange, spurring speculation that it will pursue an initial public offering.
In the post, Armstrong said employees shouldn’t debate political candidates internally, expect the company to represent their core beliefs or engage in activism at work.
“I want Coinbase to be laser focused on achieving its mission, because I believe that this is the way that we can have the biggest impact on the world,” he said, adding, “I recognize that our approach is not for everyone, and may be controversial. I know that many people may not agree, and some employees may resign.”
Armstrong sent out a subsequent internal email, offering exit packages to employees who disagree.
“It is very difficult to lead a large company and keep employees focused when everyone is working from home in the middle of a pandemic,” said Micha Benoliel, a Silicon Valley entrepreneur who runs the startup Nodle. Yet, he noted, “Coinbase is attracting diverse talent with people who want to have an impact. The first sentence you hear when you come to SV is, ‘This is the place where you can change the world from.’”
©2020 Bloomberg L.P.
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From street to office
What to Do When Your Coworker Brings Up Politics – Harvard Business Review
Political topics have always been challenging in the workplace, but never more than now. In the past, the goal was to avoid escalation. Today the conversation often starts heated. Furthermore, they can feel unavoidable, especially if they’re sprung on you with no warning.
For example, imagine you’re on a Zoom call discussing accelerating a project deadline when your colleague, “Ned,” says, “This is a product release, not a vaccine.” And that was the fourth time in just this meeting he has laced his comments with politics. You can tell others feel he’s not just making jokes but pushing his opinions. What should you do?
No one wants to get into a heated debate with their coworkers, especially over Zoom or the phone. Fortunately, there are ways to venture into these topics that both yield a much higher likelihood of healthy dialogue, and leave you an exit path if it appears that’s not possible. I’ve found it’s possible to talk openly about far more controversial issues than we usually think, as long as you bring three things to the conversation: curiosity, boundaries, and humility.
Years ago in London, I hailed a taxi for the 45-minute trip from the Gatwick airport to my hotel. After I informed the driver of my destination, he turned to face me and said, “You have an American accent. Are you American?”
“Yes,” I responded.
His eyes grew wide, he craned his neck to look back at me, and with great vehemence yelled a curse on the U.S. President.
It was late at night. I was tired. I weighed my willingness to engage in an energetic conversation and as I considered ignoring the comment I thought, “I should be able to do this. I should be able to talk to someone with a strong opinion even if I don’t fully agree.”
“Not too worried about your tip, I take it?” I said and smiled at his eyes in the mirror.
He broke into a broad grin, but it quickly disappeared. He repeated his curse a second time. Then he quickly moved into a lengthy indictment of U.S. foreign policy. His voice got louder and his face redder the more he spoke. He paused only long enough to draw a breath and it was clear he had more than 45 minutes’ worth of material he intended to share.
Ironically, I was in London to lecture about a book I had recently co-authored about politically and emotionally risky conversation. Given my itinerary, I felt a special obligation to practice what I was about to preach. So, I committed to attempt turning the remaining 40 minutes into a meaningful dialogue.
Remarkably, it worked. Of course, I knew once I got to my hotel that I wouldn’t have to see the driver again, but I was still invested in having a civil, and even productive, conversation. Next time you find yourself drawn into a discussion with someone who has strong political views, whether it’s a stranger or your colleague from another department, here are the three things you want to bring with you.
Our temptation when someone comes on strong is to either shut down or amp up. We might withdraw into silence, feigning attention while seething in quiet judgment; or we fight for space, matching or exceeding the others’ provocative certainty. Both approaches produce more heat than light.
The way to turn conflict into conversation begins with curiosity. Curiosity is a virtue that need only to be practiced to be passed. It’s remarkable to see how quickly a debate deescalates when one party begins sincerely inquiring into the views of the other. And there almost always comes a point when the one being authentically heard involuntarily reciprocates.
For example, once your call ends, you could invite Ned to hang on the connection for a moment. Then start with something like, “Hey Ned, four times in the meeting you made comments that sounded like you were expressing your political views. If at some point you want to discuss those, I’m all ears.”
You don’t have to renounce your views in order to practice curiosity. All you have to do is set them aside. Don’t worry, you can pick them back up as soon as the conversation is done. But if you’re simultaneously clutching yours while conversing about others’, you’ll do justice to neither task. You shouldn’t consider your curiosity satisfied until you see the integrity of their position: how the experiences, perspective, and information they bring leads sensibly to the conclusion they hold.
The problem with Ned’s offhanded comments in your meeting is the fact that he was turning a business meeting into a political platform. As you invite Ned into a conversation, you should also ask him to honor meeting boundaries. Assuming Ned shows an interest in sharing his views with you, you should first add, “And Ned, can I ask that in the future you avoid those kinds of comments in our meetings? That’s not the time or place for it. Okay?”
Setting boundaries at the beginning of a conversation is also helpful if you’re worried it might go off the rails. Before jumping into opinions, first, set the table. Ask for agreement on some boundaries, or ground rules that will keep things civil and balanced. Even people who disagree wildly about specific policies can usually agree quickly on simple rules of civil discourse. And if you gain their agreement before emotions escalate, they’ll often self-monitor in a way that keeps things somewhat healthy. And if they don’t, be sure you set a boundary about how you’ll handle it when someone violates the other rules.
Here’s how I set the table for a conversation with my taxi driver. I didn’t wait for him to pause as I didn’t sense one was coming anytime soon. Instead, I patted the back of his seat to interrupt him, and made him a proposition.
“I’m very interested in hearing your views,” I said. “I may agree with some of them but disagree with others. But I want equal time. Tell you what, can we agree that you get the first 10 minutes, then I get the next 10 minutes? If either of us gets too angry at the other, we’ll stop and ride quietly to my hotel. If it goes well, we might both be a little smarter when we’re done. Deal?”
He laughed heartily, turned to face me full on and said, “That’s a deal.”
If you come to the conversation curious, you will almost always leave smarter. But only if you bring the third ingredient: humility.
It’s rare that when you begin to genuinely inquire into others’ experiences that you don’t find things that surprise you, teach you, and improve you. The sobering truth is that we don’t arrive at many of our most cherished opinions starting with a blank page. Whether we are Christian or Muslim, conservative or liberal, prefer Coke or Pepsi, our ideas are shaped more by the groups we identify with than the facts we sift through.
When we listen sincerely to others, we’re often humbled as we recognize how fragile the foundation of our own convictions can be. When that happens, have the integrity to concede those points. The more you point out areas of agreement, especially ones that involve relinquishing of previously cherished “facts,” the more likely the other person is to feel safe doing the same.
Ten minutes into my taxi ride, I was loath to interrupt the driver for my turn. I was so struck with the insight I was gaining seeing my country’s foreign policy from a 12,000-kilometer distance that I didn’t want to stop. I don’t know that my taxi-driver friend ended up seeing the world any differently when we were done with that ride, but I did. Not that my opinions were profoundly altered, but they became nuanced in a way that I was grateful for.
The same will happen with Ned if you are truly humble. Don’t approach the conversation with a goal of passing judgment. Approach it with the goal of understanding how Ned’s world works. If you do this well, you’ll begin to see how, given the information and experiences he has, he would come to the conclusions he holds. Feelings of derision are evidence that my motive is to convert not to learn.
Next time you cringe with apprehension when a colleague seems intent on bringing politics into a workplace conversation, take a breath. Then replace your judgment with curiosity. Consider putting up boundaries that move the conversation to the proper time and place, increase the likelihood of balanced dialogue, and provide an off ramp if needed. Swap certainty for humility. Perhaps these practices won’t immediately bring about world peace, but they’ll certainly increase the likelihood of meaningful conversation at work.
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