The smart business approach to freedom of speech

Workplaces are often a melting pot with employees who possess different beliefs and values. Sarah Dawson explains how to build a culture that is inclusive and respectful – and what to do if staff can’t agree to disagree.

Have you had a conversation about Israel Folau in your office recently?

Whether we are on planes, trains or automobiles, listening to the radio, a podcast or the news, there are opposing sides and debates on whether this is an issue of freedom of speech, a concern of contractual agreement or awareness of social expectation.

As we sat around the lunch table in our office discussing what could be an emotionally charged topic, I noticed our office values of transparency, passion and quality relationships came into play.

As we navigated the discussion, everyone felt comfortable and supported to share their views, knowing that their opinion was respected regardless of whether it was agreed with or not.

This led me to think about our sphere of influence across the industry, the people who we interact with, the safe place we encourage for our connections to communicate, and how our business’ internal value system projects outside the office walls.

In our business and personal space we interact with industry influencers, partners and our clients and we present the same open value system to everyone. We are open, honest and transparent, and our connections respond similarly, which leads to robust conversations with underlying respect.

Thinking of your workplace and the values that are encouraged, there is protocol and requirements that we have the appropriate staff, services and escalation channels in place so that should an uncomfortable or inappropriate situation arise, there are clear avenues to ensure the difficult conversations can be dealt with.

Think about the following points to ensure the right behaviours are supported in your business and in how you present your business to the outside world.

Borderline conversations. You may not always see it, or hear it directly but if you get even a hint of it, don’t ignore it. It can lead to low morale, inter-office conflict and more serious legal problems.

People should not be afraid to be themselves, but they do need to be careful, sensitive and thoughtful about what is appropriate and how messages are delivered and heard.

Ensure the right channels are in place so that if someone does raise a concern, there is no delay, or chance for the situation to escalate, in establishing what happened.

Make sure you are well-informed and seek legal advice on the proposed policy and course of action. The policy requires clear guidelines and should be rolled out across the existing team as well as form an integral part of an employee’s induction plan.

Everyone deserves the right to an opinion driven by life experience and beliefs. Being aware of yourself and how your behaviours affect others is about taking these rights to the next level and thinking of your contribution to a safe place for everyone.

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Sarah Dawson

Sarah Dawson is the Head of Growth at Real+. For more information visit realplus.com.au.