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  • Writer's pictureMelanie Reinersman

Polarization: How to disagree without losing your job, career, or mind

Updated: Jun 5, 2020

Political polarization in the workplace may reach new heights in 2020. But it doesn’t have to. Yes, everyone is entitled to their opinions and the right to free speech. In the workplace, the stakes are higher due to potential consequences when people make others uncomfortable by attempting to generate support for a particular viewpoint. Its best to remember the goal of the workplace (i.e., provide a product or service), learn how to disagree professionally, practice holding your tongue, and believe co-workers are truly good people regardless of age, religion, race, personal beliefs.

~ Melanie Reinersman, M.A.,

FOCUS ON: Dealing with Disagreements Effectively

Leadership coaches label disagreements as breakdowns in communication and offer simple ways to productively handle them. People can seek to understand, ignore triggers, focus on similarities, listen better, take responsibility, use positive language and stay committed to the relationship. Such techniques for handling the inevitable disagreement will avoid havoc. Read More.

FOR THE PRACTITIONER: Identifying Polarization Extremes

“We are possibly experiencing the most fractured social and political landscape in living memory,” according to Kessar Kalim, a human resources director.  “It should be at the forefront of supporting organisations and their leaders to promote a culture and environment where healthy dialogue and debate can take place, and where undesirable behaviours are challenged.” Other HR consultants, such as Gordon Headley, shares thoughts on whether it is HR’s role to root out extremist behavior: “A responsible organisation will work within the laws of each country while also adhering to the values that have been set and agreed by the boardroom.” He continues, “I do not believe that it is correct to overtly investigate every possible issue unless there is cause to believe a problem exists.”

FOR THE PRACTITIONER: Understanding Employment Polarization – Economically

Relative to middle wages jobs, are U.S. workers increasingly found in low- and high-wage jobs? If yes, then employment polarization exists. The National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) found a slight decline in the number of workers earning middle wages since 1973. However, a slight decline was found in low wage jobs, with a strong increase in top jobs. Additional findings are similarly inconsistent with employment polarization. Looking at occupation-based analysis, the hypothesis that automation is behind occupation-based employment polarization is not supported. Read more from NBER.

GENDER IN THE WORKPLACE: Pay Inequality Over 50 Years

An Internet search on the topic of polarization of wages includes a focus on statistics. The National Career Development Association’s web magazine, Career Convergence, offered a 40 year summary of gender in the labor force and the Pew Research Center updated article to focus on the last 10 years. The conclusion of both articles, and presumably the majority of articles in the Internet search results, is that there is evidence that the wag gap is persisting over 50 years.

TOP TEN: Ways to Increase Inclusivity

While you may not have any control over diversity at the executive level, helping all employees to foster a company culture of respect is one way to promote inclusion. Acknowledging and honoring multiple religious practices is another. Many workplaces could do better at gatherings by reflecting everyone’s preferences (e.g., ask about birthday celebrations before assuming co-workers want their office decorated with balloons). Read more than ten ways to improve diversity and inclusion.


“Strength lies in differences, not in similarities.” - Stephen R. Covey
“I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” - S.G. Tallentyre
“We all should know that diversity makes for a rich tapestry, and we must understand that all the threads of the tapestry are equal in value no matter what their color.” - Maya Angelou
“All life is interrelated. The agony of the poor impoverishes the rich; the betterment of the poor enriches the rich. We are inevitably our brother’s keeper because we are our brother’s brother. Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly.” - Martin Luther King, Jr.


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