How to Talk About Difficult Issues Like Ferguson at Work

Lebron James, speaking out in his workplace.(AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

Over the past several months, the tragic shooting of Michael Brown by Darren Wilson has been all over the news. The decision not to indict Officer Wilson sparked a wave of violence, and now a movement of protestors who are speaking out against police brutality. Sadly, Michael Brown’s story is now only part of the conversation on race and police violence, with the deaths of Akai Gurley, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, becoming part of the tragic list.

Last week, five players on Saint Louis’s NFL team joined the conversation by emerging on the playing field, their workplace, with their hands held up; their gesture of support for the protestors angered police. Protesters have held actions in cities around the country, including several in New York. Last night the NBA star LeBron James and several of his teammates wore shirts that read “I can’t breathe,” in reference to Eric Garner’s last words, as he was held to the ground in a choke hold by a New York City police officer. And President Obama dedicated a large part of his day last Monday to meetings regarding improving relations between the police and the communities they serve.

When workplace conversations go off the rails

Like any topic, people have many differing points of view on the Ferguson story and each individual case, fueled by their personal opinions and experiences. There are those who speak out in protest against the police, others who decry the protests and attention, and those who support the police and the grand jury decision.

These recent events have sparked intense debate about who is right, and race is at the center of these conversations. And while discussion is healthy and necessary, it can get heated and disrespectful quickly. I’ve overheard, seen, and even been part of conversations that could easily be considered offensive or inappropriate if they occurred in the workplace.

It’s likely that employees will continue to bring these conversations into their workplaces. If they turn heated, they can damage workplace relationships, and give rise to claims of harassment and discrimination.

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SOURCE: Ingrid Fredeen
Vice President of Advisory Services, NAVEX Global

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