Whether the talking heads will admit it or not, political correctness (PC) is rapidly deteriorating well-intentioned businesses and turning them into submissive entities that spend more time trembling at the thought of a PR nightmare than driving growth and innovation. And while it may have once been a political issue propagated by a particular party, this is no longer the case. PC is a widespread epidemic that’s seriously stunting creativity.
This is no longer an issue of being a liberal, moderate, or conservative. Our entire society – regardless of political affiliation – has been brainwashed into thinking everyone has to be included in everything. The admirable goal of equality for everyone has been confused with not hurting anyone’s feelings. As author and human relations expert BJ Gallagher writes for The Huffington Post, our pursuit of encouraging sensitivity has ultimately created an environment where talking about social issues – racism, gender, religion, sexual orientation, mental health, etc. – is considered inappropriate.
“It’s gotten so bad,” Gallagher writes, “that a liberal professor friend of mine says that she thinks the whole political correctness movement was invented by the Far Right to inhibit any meaningful discussion of diversity issues in order to keep racial, gender, and other barriers in place.”
Incredible. That statement right there goes to show how upside down, backwards, and downright confused we, as a country, are about political correctness. We’re spending so much time contemplating the rise of PC – trying to pin the blame on someone or something – that we’re refusing to even look at the bigger picture.
Businesses are no longer able to innovate or move without looking over their shoulders. Entrepreneurs are afraid of creatively expressing themselves for fear of being labeled a “sexist,” “racist,” or “bigot.” These are serious, destructive, career-damaging claims that are freely dished out without much thought. It’s scary to think what the business landscape will look like in five, ten, or fifteen years from now if self-censorship, tongue-biting, and media-lashings continue to take precedence over creativity, freedom of speech, and the genuine pursuit of fairness and equality.
The Right Way to Handle PC in the Workplace
By no means is anyone advocating for inappropriate workplace behavior, racist managing tactics, or sexist interactions with coworkers. Rather, the aim is to stop wasting precious time overanalyzing every single word, action, and move you make. We need more direct confrontation.
The sad state of PC in the business world is largely the result of a workforce that’s afraid of confrontation. People would rather cover all of their bases and speak in vague generalizations than run the risk of offending someone. It’s why some people suggest you, “enroll in a class about communicating with others and learn about how to better communicate with a variety of people.” (Yeah, because that’s the best way for a successful professional to spend their time).
What we need in this country are more workplaces where coworkers pull their peers aside and ask pointed questions before running to the local news station with inaccurate and out-of-context stories. Less sensationalism and more candid peer-to-peer conversations – that’s what businesses need to focus on.
Pat Lynch, president of Business Alignment Strategies, Inc., calls political correctness the “elephant in the workplace.” In his opinion, there are four practical ways to “minimize the toxic results of the elephant’s presence.”
- Teach people how to have honest and direct conversations that are characterized by constructive confrontation.
- Reward candid behavior by recognizing people who take the time and risk to challenge established ideas.
- Hold people accountable for not being candid. Call people out when they do things that are designed to prevent necessary confrontation.
- Let people know what the consequences of non-candid, indirect communications are – and follow through with those consequences.
Pursue Fairness, Not Correctness
Everyone deserves to be treated fairly, justly, and appropriately. That’s not the issue here. The issue is that our society has begun to value the very act of being politically correct so much that businesses and entrepreneurs are crippled with fear. We’re all so scared of miss stepping that we no longer take steps at all. If you want to talk about fairness – that’s not fair.
As mentioned, this isn’t meant to be a political topic, so I hesitate to include a quote from a politician. However, I think this quote is the perfect way to articulate my point. (I’ll refrain from attributing the quote in an effort to avoid deviating from the issue at hand, but you can obviously discover the author on your own with a few swift clicks of your keyboard).
“I think the problem this country has is being politically correct,” this politician recently said. “I’ve been challenged by so many people and I don’t, frankly, have time for total political correctness. And to be honest with you, this country doesn’t have time, either.”
American businesses don’t have time for political correctness – and it’s time we stop encouraging it.