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Don't Ban “Politics” at Work – Harvard Business Review



With political polarization on the rise and companies gauging the risks of employees’ internal political activism, some are opting to ban political speech at work entirely. The authors, experts in speaking up at work, explain the pitfalls of this approach and instead suggest asking a different question: How can we support employees and encourage them to handle difference, respect one another, listen, and learn? The answer, they suggest, requires four actions on the part of leaders: Building empathy and respect for others’ views, inviting different perspectives into the leadership fold, accepting mistakes gracefully, and teaching people how to disagree.

“Speak up!” “Bring your whole self to work!” This invitation (or is it a command?) has been ringing down the hallways and Zoom calls of many organizations in the past few years. Leaders should hardly be surprised when employees take that invitation at face value and speak up on political issues they deeply care about: Climate change, human rights issues in the supply chain, sexism, and racism.

But leaders are worried because political conversations in the workplace come fraught with risk. In our research on employee activism, we’ve found that leaders are concerned that these discussions may become ungovernable or toxic, create workplace discord, distract people from getting on with the job and so undermine productivity, or result in people fighting for union recognition and so usurp managerial authority, any of which might in turn blossom into a PR fiasco.

The result is that some organizations have banned such conversations altogether. It appears that there’s enthusiasm for such a strategy: According to a Harris poll, for example, 70% of Americans say they would support companywide policies that limit the discussion of politics in the workplace, and according to Glassdoor, 60% of U.S. employees believe that discussing politics at work at all is unacceptable. Meanwhile, YouGov in Germany reported 44% of workers thought it to be inappropriate to talk about politics at work.

But banning political speech has consequences. Recently Basecamp CEO Jason Fried announced a number of policy changes, including that there would be “no more societal and political discussions on our company Basecamp account.” Within a matter of days around one third of its employees had resigned and Fried ultimately apologized. Basecamp was hot on the heels of another controversial ban on political speech, by Coinbase CEO Brian Armstrong, which also resulted in the loss of a number of employees.

Instead of instituting a ban or seeking to diminish voices seeking political change, leaders would be better served by building a culture that handles political differences in the workplace more productively. Let’s look at why that is — and how to do it well.

The Disadvantages

Banning political speech is fundamentally implausible because it is impossible to draw a clean, objective line between what counts as “politics” and what doesn’t — or which issues are “acceptable” to discuss because they relate to the company’s mission and which aren’t.

The problem is that the kinds of issues that are debated in the political sphere often do have bearing on the company’s goals and operation. Take, for example, a retail CEO we recently spoke to. He found himself embroiled in a heated debate with employees who wanted him to speak up publicly about a sexist remark made by an industry commentator, while he was reticent and felt out of his depth. He could have simply banned the discussion, dismissing sexism as a “political” issue. But sexism was related to the company’s mission, which relied on the patronage of women (their primary customers) and on having a reputation that allowed it to attract and retain key talent. The CEO chose to speak out as his employees had urged him to do. What could have been a potentially explosive situation with walkouts and a furor in the local (and even national press) was resolved without drama. With political debates it is the capacity to defuse situations which is often the marker of success.

Banning politics can also backfire in two ways:

First, employees may not take kindly to it. The theory of Transactional Analysis from psychology helps to explain why: When a “critical parent” lays down the law, they frequently get a “rebellious child” response in which the reprimanded party lashes out. A company leader banning speech about difference is likely to drive difference underground only for it to explode — as with the widely publicized mass exodus at Basecamp.

Secondly, if your rule is accepted, you may end up with a lot of “compliant child” behaviors: a minefield of employees expecting you to make more and more detailed guidelines around what is and isn’t allowed and arbitrating every time something unexpected comes up.

We’re not suggesting there aren’t situations where a leader needs to use their positional power to set boundaries. Clearly, there may be a need for leaders to step in if employees are being harassed or debates have turned aggressive. But this should not be a default reaction. Instead, we believe that there is considerable space between the two extremes of a full ban and letting political speech run riot.

The Right Way to Handle Political Difference

If your instinctive answer is to ban political discussion, then we’d suggest asking a different question: How can we support employees and encourage them to handle difference, respect one another, listen, and learn? In fact, this is a question worth asking regularly anyway because innovation, safety, motivation, agility, and performance all rely on the answer. In Transactional Analysis terms, this alternative approach is called “adult-to-adult inquiry,” in which people consider an issue — and their differences — in an attentive and curious way.

Leaders who want to build their organizations’ muscle for this approach to political dialogue should focus on four elements:

Build empathy and respect for others’ views.  Leaders who wish to build political empathy in their organizations need to establish spaces where employees can learn informally about one another and find ways to negotiate their boundaries and differences — learning how to be different from each other while still having enough mutual respect to get on with the job in hand. We’ve seen bosses bringing home-baked (or not) cake in to encourage impromptu chat or Zoom meeting agendas that include a few minutes for participants to explain one non-work thing they are finding challenging or are proud of.

These conversations may seem small, but political empathy and respect grow through the day-to-day sharing of personal stories and vulnerabilities and when we can see past the habitual labels and judgements we apply to others.

Invite different perspectives into the senior leadership fold. The next step is for leaders to actively invite difference into their own perspectives. In our research into speaking truth to power, we found that people valued their own opinion around a third more than that of others and that leaders often live in a self-assured bubble thinking that they know what matters to others even when they really don’t. This corresponds to the “strong leader” trope which is prominent in organizations, business schools, and society and which equates leadership with control, strength, and a single truth or vision.

It takes skill and self-awareness for leaders to welcome different opinions. A leader we’ve worked with introduced a formal devil’s advocate role into their teams, where at every meeting someone is tasked with being the voice of opposition. In an organization where leaders are seen as considerably more powerful than line staff, we’ve been invited in by the HR director to collate the unofficial story about employees’ experiences of speaking up and being heard to share with the senior executive team.

Accept mistakes gracefully. Political dialogue can’t happen if everyone has to always be perfectly articulate, polished, and on-message. Our research shows that the top two reasons we stay silent are that we fear being perceived negatively and we fear upsetting or embarrassing the other person. But it is often the case that the more impassioned people are about something, the less articulate they become.

As role models for the rest of the organization, leaders in particular should ask themselves: How are employees received when they speak up but are inarticulate or unskilled in doing so? Is the reaction likely to lead them to learn and try again or will they silence themselves? By coaching leaders on mindfulness techniques, we’ve helped them to be more aware of their reactions and choose more productive responses.

Teach people how to disagree. Developing the ability to disagree well has benefits beyond the company’s ability to handle political difference — it’s integral to the organization’s ability to innovate.

To make their people more comfortable with conflict, leaders must model disagreeing, and disagreeing well. At one company we work with, leaders are open with employees about conflicts that exist at the board level and explain that these disagreements (and their successful resolution) are essential for performing well.

To disagree well, organizations must understand that disagreement turns destructive only when it is seen by one or both parties as an existential battle where “I’m right” and “You’re wrong.” One organization we work with has drawn on the field of mediation for its executive training around conflict. There the focus is on ensuring that the other party feels that you have fully understood their case before you put yours forward yours — especially if you’re in a higher-status position.

If you have an impulse to ban political speech at your organization, it may signal that the organization cannot handle difference and challenge — a bad sign for the company’s ability to be agile and innovative. Before you ban certain conversations, check whether you are attempting to cover up a deficiency in one or all of the four areas above. If you are, the ban is just a Band-Aid; what lies beneath still needs your attention.

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Italy’s Mr. Fix-It Tries to Fix the Country’s Troubled Justice System — and Its Politics, Too – The New York Times



The issue has become a test for whether Prime Minister Mario Draghi can really change Italy.

LODI — If there is one person who does not have to be persuaded of the need for Italy’s urgent push for judicial reform — which Prime Minister Mario Draghi has staked his leadership on — it is the former mayor of the northern town of Lodi, Simone Uggetti.

Early one morning, Lodi’s financial police knocked on his door, hauled him off to prison, strip searched him and put him in a small cell with a convicted murderer and a drug dealer. It was the start of a five-year ordeal — over the awarding of city contracts, worth 5,000 euros, to manage two public pools — that was used by his political opponents to destroy his career, his credibility, his reputation and his family.

“Who are you? You’re the mayor who got arrested, all your life,” Mr. Uggetti said this week, still visibly shaken by the experience, which ended only in May when an appeals court absolved him, saying no crime had ever taken place. He wept in court. “It was the end of a nightmare,” Mr. Uggetti said. “Five years is a long time.”

Such cases are all too common in Italy, where the far-reaching power of sometimes ideologically driven magistrates can be used to pursue political vendettas or where businesses can easily become ensnared in cumbersome and daunting litigation that is among the slowest in Europe.

Mr. Draghi is so convinced Italy’s courts need fixing that he has said he is willing to risk his government’s survival on the issue, by putting to a confidence vote new legislation that would shorten civil and criminal proceedings. Without speedier trials, he argues, all the economic renewal and political change required in Italy will not come — and there is a lot that needs changing.

Elisabetta Zavoli for The New York Times

On Thursday evening, the government announced it had reached a unanimous agreement with a broad array of interests in the government. A vote will take place in coming days.

“The objective is to guarantee a speedy justice system that respects the reasonable duration of a trial,” Marta Cartabia, Italy’s justice minister, said Thursday night after the announcement. “But also guarantees that no trial goes up in smoke.”

The issue has become the first major test, beyond vaccinations, of whether Mr. Draghi, a titan of the European Union who helped save the euro, can leverage his formidable Mr. Fix-It reputation and the grand political coalition behind him to solve a long-festering problem that has threatened the democratic process and economy in Italy, the last of Europe’s major powers to escape far-reaching overhauls of its postwar systems.

Mr. Draghi’s gambit has all the potential to change a country where, as the saying goes, “you aren’t anybody unless you are under investigation.” It is nothing less than an attempt to restore Italians’ confidence in their political leaders and institutions after decades of anti-establishment vitriol, angry headlines and social media invective.

The threat of endless litigation, Mr. Draghi has argued, scares off foreign investors, constrains growing Italian companies, and could even keep Italy from meeting the requirements imposed by the European Union to gain its share of a more than 200 billion euro post-Covid recovery fund.

“Justice is one of the keystones of the recovery,” said Claudio Cerasa, the editor of il Foglio, a newspaper that has emerged as the voice of protecting the rights of defendants, and also frustrated accusers, from slow and politicized justice. He said Mr. Draghi “depoliticizes the conflict and brings it on a different level, which is the Draghi trademark, he transforms everything into common sense.”

Still, it is no easy task. But Mr. Draghi is betting that, after many decades, the political winds around the issue have shifted in his favor.

Justice emerged as perhaps the central theme of contemporary Italian politics in 1992, when the watermark Clean Hands investigation exposed complex, vast and systemic corruption that financed the country’s political parties.

The scandal came to be known as Bribesville and brought down a ruling class, marking the end of Italy’s First Republic after World War II.

Prosecutors became public heroes and, capitalizing on the spreading impression that all politicians were guilty of something, stepped into the power vacuum.

But so did Silvio Berlusconi, the brash media mogul, who became prime minister and a constant target of prosecutors who investigated him for corruption and other crimes. He portrayed them as politically motivated Communists, or “red robes,” and almost always beat the rap by running out the clock and reaching a statute of limitations.

That infuriated magistrates and eventually fueled a “hang ’em all” populist backlash led by the anti-elite Five Star Movement, which once again depicted the political establishment as a corrupt caste.

By 2018, Luigi Di Maio, one of its leaders, made lists of all rival candidates under investigation and called them “unpresentable.” The media splashed accusations and leaked investigations on front pages, and then barely mentioned or buried dropped charges or acquittals.

Max Rossi/Reuters

Now, that anti-establishment season seems to be waning, and populists have apparently made the calculation that, electorally, “lock-em up” no longer pays.

Mr. Di Maio, who led j’accuse Five Star protests against Mr. Uggetti and once rode the popular anger to victory in national elections, is now contrite. Now Italy’s foreign minister, he wrote an apology in Il Foglio to Mr. Uggetti after his acquittal in May for the “grotesque and indecorous manner” he behaved.

But Mr. Cerasa, Il Foglio’s editor, suspected that the change may be more tactical than heartfelt. He said that parties that wielded the judicial system as a weapon also felt its scorpion sting while in power, and faced a barrage of civil and criminal cases.

But something else has changed: Mr. Draghi has now become the organizing force of Italian politics.

With hundreds of billions of euros of E.U. assistance hanging in the balance, and a pandemic still in the air, establishment chops and palpable sanity are in high demand. Mr. Draghi is seen to have both and has seized the moment to consolidate power.

Gregorio Borgia/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

No political novice, Mr. Draghi appears to have the support to pass his judicial legislation — and to put Italy on more solid footing by baking lasting change into the system.

The government’s agreement on the legislation includes Five Star, which had expressed concerns about letting criminals off the hook, but which ultimately agreed to withdraw their proposed amendments. Other backing came from the nationalist League party of Matteo Salvini; Mr. Berlusconi’s party on the right; the liberal Democrats on the left; and Matteo Renzi, the former prime minister.

Not everyone is enthusiastic, though.

Marco Travaglio, the editor of Il Fatto Quotidiano, which has deep ties to magistrates and has served as a megaphone for Five Star’s aspersions, has been lashing out and angrily resisting what increasingly feels like the end of an era in Italian politics. This month he mocked Mr. Draghi as a privileged brat and characterized his justice minister, Ms. Cartabia, a former president of Italy’s constitutional court, as a rube who “cannot distinguish between a tribunal and a hair dryer.”

But for the most part, people are on board with Mr. Draghi, and Mr. Uggetti hoped that the prime minister would bring more balance to the system that nearly ruined him.

Elisabetta Zavoli for The New York Times

Mr. Uggetti now works as the chief executive of a tech firm outside Lodi developing business management software. “I’m rebuilding my life,” he said.

Still, he misses being mayor. As he walked around the pool that was the source of his judicial nightmare, and which is now an empty ruin, he ticked off all the things he would fix (bike paths and roads), and pointed out historical tidbits (a bridge where Napoleon won a major battle, a statue of a scientist) as if he still represented the town.

He considered running for mayor again a possibility. But there was another possibility too. In Italy, a higher court can overrule an appeals court, cancel an acquittal and put a person on trial again. That higher court still has time to decide to retry him.

“They have the power to say ‘No, this appeal sentence is no good,’” he said, shaking his head. “I really hope that it finishes here.”

Emma Bubola contributed reporting from Rome.

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Totalenergies CEO says its decision to exit Petrocedeno not linked to politics – Reuters



A general view of a logo on the TotalEnergies headquarters in the La Defense business district in Paris, France, July 28, 2021. REUTERS/Benoit Tessier

PARIS, July 29 (Reuters) – TotalEnergies said on Thursday that the sale of its 30.3% stake in Petrocedeno was not linked to the political situation in Venezuela, its chief executive said.

Patrick Pouyanné was speaking during an analyst call.

Reporting by Benjamin Mallet. Editing by Jane Merriman

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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Independent MP Derek Sloan hopes his new political party ‘excites’ Canadians about politics – Global News



Independent MP for Hastings Lennox and Addington, Derek Sloan, has confirmed to Global News that he is in the process of trying to launch his own political party. The MP says it will be called the “True North” party, pending Elections Canada Approval.

“I think Canadians are disenfranchised with the current political landscape, and I’m hoping to excite Canadians about politics and about Canada and to really get people happy again about Canada and hopeful,” said Sloan.

A spokesperson for Elections Canada said that they are working to ensure all requirements under the Canada Elections Act are met, in order for Sloan’s party to become official.

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In the meantime, Sloan has been spending time outside of his riding during the pandemic, making a number of trips to Western Canada.

Sloan explained that his travels are necessary in order to promote his “movement” on a national scale.

“Right now I believe for the sake of our riding, I need to sort of boost the popularity of this movement across the country,” said Sloan.

Sloan became an independent MP earlier this year when he was removed from the Conservative Party of Canada.

Former conservative senator, Hugh Segal, says Sloan’s move to create a new party could negatively impact his former party.

“If he’ll be more to the right, he’ll obviously be taking some votes away from the Conservatives at that far right-winged edge in his constituency and other constituencies where there may be candidates for his new party,” said Segal.

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Liberal Mike Bossio lost his seat to Sloan last election, and will be trying to win it back during the upcoming election.

Bossio believes Sloan has become a polarizing figure in the riding due to his views (ranging from abortion and LGBQT2 issues, to COVID-19 and vaccines.)

“He has a very different worldview that he’s been sharing with Canadians. It’s certainly not a view that I share in any way, shape or form, I think that it’s a toxic and dangerous view,” said Bossio.

Sloan says while he’s starting to build momentum for his new party in Western Canada, his intention to run in his own riding has not changed.

© 2021 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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