Dear Diversity Diva:
I manage a small retail store and the other day a disruptive conversation arose when one of my employees mentioned her plans to go to California to marry her lover and my other employee made a disparaging comment about gay marriage. How do I get two employees who have always gotten along back on track?
Dear California Dreaming:
There is a reason why discussing weather is the safest conversation you can have with strangers and co-workers — there are only so many ways cloud cover can turn controversial.
Chances are that what happened in your work situation is that the person who made the negative comment about gay marriage expressed an opinion he had always had but felt empowered to vocalize because his co-worker opened the door to the subject. Also, for all you know, the co-worker who made the original comment was deliberately attempting to start a conversation to “out” a co-worker she suspected would be unsupportive.
You never know what’s really going on beneath the surface when sensitive topics pop up.
Ultimately, sensitive conversations in the workplace are a lot like driving. The person who has the clearest view of the situation is presumed to be the one who could have kept the accident from happening in the first place. That’s why if you don’t want to take the chance of someone saying something offensive, you’ve got to carefully pick your workplace discussions and anticipate the logical places where the conversation may end up.
Your options in making this situation better are limited.
It sounds like what you want to accomplish is having your two employees go back to the place they were with each other before harsh words were spoken. Sorry, but that won’t fly.
Each of them probably will see each other through different eyes now that they have openly addressed their conflicting views. If they are both mature and responsible individuals, they’ll try to keep that out of their working relationship as much as possible and maybe even learn something from the encounter they had.
The best you can do is what it sounds like you’re already doing — staying aware and keeping folks on track as best you can.