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When neutrality backfires

Many leaders are reluctant to speak out on controversial political topics. Whether you’re a C-level executive making a public statement at a popular news event, an executive managing a diverse team, or even an individual contributor just chatting with colleagues, many of us believe that refusing to take sides is the safest option . However, the authors’ recent research suggests that this approach can backfire. Through a series of studies of more than 4,000 people, the authors found that being neutral can make you more dubious and untrustworthy than simply sharing your opinion, even if your audience disagrees with it. Therefore, the authors suggest that if someone asks for your opinion, your response should of course be thoughtful, thoughtful and respectful – but you shouldn’t be afraid to take sides.

Is sharing your personal political views in public worth the risk? If your stance aligns with that of your customers, employees or followers, then it is likely to be pretty harmless to side with – of course, if you feel Strong enough, ethical considerations may override strategic considerations. But many leaders are reluctant to take sides on controversial issues for fear that speaking out could alienate those who disagree with them. Whether you’re a CEO considering a public statement about abortion rights, a supervisor running a team that disagrees on gun control, or an individual just talking about the news with colleagues, conventional wisdom is that neutrality is generally the safe bet. But is it? While the desire to “stay out” is understandable, our recent research suggests that this approach can backfire. We conducted a series of experiments with more than 4,000 participants in various workplaces, and we consistently found that people tended to be more suspicious and suspicious of colleagues, managers and public figures than those who refused to take sides. trust. Express opinions openly – even if it’s an opinion they disagree with. Additionally, we’ve found that being visibly neutral can lead people to think you’re trying to hide the fact that your views are contrary to those of anyone you’re targeting (even if they don’t), even those who actually share yours. For example, in one experiment, we showed participants a video clip of a press conference in which NFL team owners were asked if they thought players should be allowed to kneel during the national anthem. He responded that he would rather not take sides. Most participants reported that they found the host to be more honest, sincere, and trustworthy if the host took a certain position, even if that position ran counter to their own moral values. Additionally, when participants were told the owner was being interviewed by a liberal news station, they believed he held conservative beliefs, but when they were told he was being interviewed by a conservative news station, they believed he held a liberal belief. Pie beliefs. In other words, regardless of the master’s actual opinion, they suspect that he refuses to stand in line because he secretly disagrees with the person he’s talking to, making him appear insincere and untrustworthy. In another experiment, where we told participants that they would complete a cooperative task with a partner, we had them choose between a partner who disagreed with them about gun reform and a partner who refused to share their opinions choose between partners. We found that people are more willing to work with people who speak out against them than with those who are unwilling to take either position, in large part because potential partners who refuse to share their opinions are seen as less trustworthy. It is also important to note that this phenomenon is not limited to controlled laboratory settings: similar effects are evident in countless real-world settings. For example, Taylor Swift encountered some skepticism when she tried to remain neutral on political issues, which eventually led her to switch to a more blunt approach to communication. Disney CEO Bob Chapek also ran into trouble after briefly trying to stay neutral on Florida’s controversial “don’t say gay” bill that angered liberals who opposed the effort, then half-heartedly opposed It (infuriates conservatives who support it). Within organizations, managers and employees who refuse to engage in today’s political discussions — even if their reasons for doing so are legitimate — risk raising the same moral doubts. Whether you’re talking to a handful of colleagues in a Zoom meeting or making a public statement to millions of fans, trust is key — the longer you wait to weigh in, the more likely people are to become suspicious. Of course, deliberate neutrality certainly has its place. In our study, participants were generally more tolerant of neutral information if it appeared to reflect genuine uncertainty or beliefs about a middle ground, rather than appearing as strategic avoidance. Also, people don’t punish neutrality they don’t notice: if you can completely avoid taking sides by avoiding forums involving politics, then inconspicuous silence doesn’t incur the same trust penalty as blatant neutrality. But as customers and employees increasingly demand that leaders take words and deeds about the political reasons they care most about, try to avoid conversations — or offer only a cautious “I see the good in both sides” or “I really can’t say” out of my mind” – may provoke distrust and hostility. Whether you’re leading an organization, running a meeting, or having dinner with friends, political conversations are bound to come up. The urge to avoid these hot issues is natural, but our research shows that trying not to take sides can backfire, cause you to appear less trustworthy and prompt people to think you secretly disagree with them. In an increasingly polarized workplace and world, building trust depends on finding ways to discuss our beliefs and values, even (especially) with those who disagree. So if someone asks for your opinion, be considerate, thoughtful, and respectful—but don’t be afraid to take sides.


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