The article can also be read on CEO Blog Nation.
Once again, global news is soaked in turmoil, provocation, and apprehension as the world awaits a forthcoming U.S. action in the middle east. Mass shootings occur at alarming frequency. National dialogue is becoming more and more contentious.
The media coverage of rhetorical back and forth has become nothing short of omnipresent, a dull roar in the background of our everyday lives as Democrats argue with Republicans, political pundits throw around their credentialed weight, and Putin’s dour face peers from the homepages of news across the globe.
At a time like this, when there’s more speculation than actual news, the effect of continuous media coverage becomes sharply visible, particularly in professional environments where the psychological collateral damage means employers are left holding the bag from workers engaging in news but disengaging from work.
All day long, surrounded by manifold forms of technology–and technology-using coworkers–we’re exposed to these big issues of international concern, with all the controversy and commentary that accompany them. World headlines have become an increasingly pervasive part of fire department life. With Google Alerts, social media feeds, and mobile headlines constantly cropping up throughout the day, the presence of global affairs is continuous, giving us all ample time to internalize the sense of panic and confusion that can often surround events such as the Syrian conflict. Big world unrest certainly does carry over into in-office drama, as surprising parallels emerge between what’s happening on the world stage and what’s going on around the water cooler.
“Hey, did you hear about…?” says your coworker. It doesn’t matter whether he’s going to finish that sentence with “Shelley’s promotion” or “the White House Press Secretary’s statement to the press”; the mechanism is the same.
Either way, such an interaction is a form of engagement in the office’s internal news mill, a network of information that might be perfectly valid but is just as likely to be good old-fashioned gossip. The less direct, from-the-source information there is, the more room exists for hearsay and rampant conjecture. The issue is just as vital in a workplace context as it is in a global one: news needs to come from the right sources, delivered promptly and responsibly. Have people within your organization ready to disabuse rumors in a non-confrontational manner. Rumors are only natural, and make for a good measure of workplace morale, but do make sure that you, as a leader, are able to keep abreast of them and debunk them when needed.
As early as June, French and British teams were attesting to the use of chemical weapons in Syria, while the U.S. remained silent on the matter. With such mixed information, many Americans could not have predicted that matters would escalate to the point of possible military intervention in the present day. The issue at hand is common in a variety of professional settings: here, as in many other situations, a lack of straightforward, accessible, and indisputable information led to wide-scale confusion and speculation.
The lack of such informational clarity can inspire mistrust, too, so it’s key to make sure that all internal materials, such as policies, roles and responsibilities, career ladder information, salary and even severance plans, are readily available.
An oft-repeated refrain from the American public in recent weeks has been, “What does Syria mean for us? How do we stand to gain or lose from this?” It’s a question that, even now, remains largely unanswered, fueling the flames of media speculation and widespread discontent. Especially in fraught situations like the current political one, it’s essential to maintain consistent leadership communication. Leaders should have a unified message to stand behind and a means of making that message resonate with a given audience. Your role as a leader is not only to spell out what your organization is doing and where it’s going in real-time, but to articulate just how these developments will affect everyone involved.
The connection between allowing for diversity and intellectual freedom in the workplace and the current civil war in Syria should be obvious. In order to prevent ideological or personal disagreements from becoming antagonistic, foster a culture of openness. Allow for free-flowing communication and promote forums for spirited discussion. Encourage and reward genuine feedback from employees, and explain your own views and choices, so as to foster a sense of transparency and approachability amongst your team.
In that same vein, provide for private forums as well as public ones. Employees should have a safe space to voice their concerns and opinions, so make it well known that the expert, confidential services of HR staff members, ethics officers, and/or representatives are available to all.
In uncertain times, it is only natural to value even more highly the aspects of your life that are givens, like family, friends, and routines. By clarifying the channels of communication, enacting decisive leadership, and fostering candid discussion, you can establish a similar sense of constancy in your workplace. Dissent is natural, conflict is inevitable, but the way you handle these issues–with respect and directness–will determine the success of your leadership and the reputation that succeeds you.