One of my colleagues has made it widely known that she supports the former presidential administration. During the January 6 insurrection at the Capital, she expressed sympathetic views for the rioters and while she didn't directly make these comments to me, I heard from several others, which makes me increasingly uncomfortable. Should I mention anything to my manager (who is also my colleague's supervisor)?
Reconciling Ideological Differences
Dear Reconciling Ideological Differences,
I imagine most Americans reading this response, and even those living outside of the U.S., have at least one or more colleagues, friends, or family members who openly support the past President Trump and his administration or some of its views. We’ve all likely had situations over the last 5+ years where we had to decide the best course of action to address ideological differences with a person we don’t know at all or that we’ve known for a long time. Some choose to end contact all together, others seek to deepen their relationship and seek greater understanding or influence, others ignore or distance themselves, and many do some combination. With this in mind, my question for you is: what is your goal in reporting your discomfort to your supervisor?
You shared that this colleague has made statements to others- not you- which show sympathy for the January 6th rioters. While you, and potentially others, are uncomfortable to know the views of your colleague, I encourage you to take a step back and take a moment to ask yourself if and how knowing her views is harmful to you or your work. How does sharing political views (regardless of the ideology) align with or in conflict with company policy and culture? Consider that the colleague may be sharing her views to gauge support from others or she may feel it’s safe to convey her beliefs knowing that the company is one that seeks to create an environment for civil discourse and include diverse perspectives and identities.
If your company has made statements or has policies which limit political discourse or behaviors which create a divisive environment then you may decide to talk with your supervisor about your concerns. You may even recommend professional training to engage colleagues in civil discourse, create intergroup dialogues, or introduce story circles. Above all, if you decide to report her, avoid demonizing the beliefs she has and stick to concerns directly about how the person is sharing political views inappropriately or creating discomfort in their discourse about polarizing issues. Do this with an understanding that your supervisor will likely do their own investigation and since you don’t have firsthand knowledge of statements made, you could end up on the wrong end of this stick. Of course, if you or others have heard this colleague make statements which are threatening or discriminatory toward others based on race, color, national origin, or sex (includes pregnancy, gender identity, or sexual orientation), then you definitely can report this behavior which is unlawful under Title VII and the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
Having a visceral negative response to President Trump and his policies, especially for anyone who perceives them as in conflict with their own views, is expected. Don’t lose sight that your colleague is a whole human being and much more than just her political opinions. She, like you, has had experiences and relationships that form her current worldview. In the workplace, she, like you, is looking for relationships, to be validated, to contribute, and to create outcomes at work. Assuming an employee with different political beliefs doesn’t belong in your workplace is a problematic take and one that doesn’t bode well for a company that promotes civil discourse and differences of perspective and identities or for the stability of our country.
Having ideological differences in a workplace isn’t new. What’s relatively new is a focus many companies have to promote inclusive workplaces and welcoming cultures during a period of increasing polarity. It also likely means managers are likely fielding staff concerns like yours more often. Does being inclusive include ideological differences and welcoming civil discourse around those differences? I suggest it should. I worry about unhealthy behaviors (across all communities) being taught and learned that dehumanize individuals across our differences. I fear this puts our society, workplace teams, and families at risk due to unproductive or disruptive conflict and harmful acts (including the events of January 6th). As an international educator, my personal ideological views push me to seek greater peace through increasing understanding, reserving judgement, perspective taking, and showing compassion while also calling out behaviors which actively discriminate, create barriers, attack, or harm others. I encourage you to reflect on your own goals for working in this field and consider how you’re living out the values in your work and personal life.
P.S. Now that I’ve shared my thoughts, I’m curious what the amazing community of educators reading this post has to say. Chime in, folks! What thoughts do you have for Searching for Safe Partners? Share your thoughts on the Global Leadership League’s LinkedIn page. Have a question for Sophia yourself, ask here!
Please note: This response is provided for informational purposes only. The information contained herein is not legal advice and should not be used as a substitute for the legal advice or legal opinions of a licensed professional. Contact a personal attorney or licensed professional to obtain appropriate legal advice or professional counseling with respect to any particular issue or problem.