Hot-Button Issues: Talking Politics At Work

October 3, 2012  |  

It’s a taboo subject for the workplace. But with the big presidential election debate tonight it is hard for politics not to make it into office discussions.

“Subtle swipes in the break room about ‘socialist Democrats’ and ‘racist Republicans’ can quickly escalate to hostile feelings that can affect productivity and camaraderie in the office,” reports Forbes.

It’s up to the boss to help keep a lid on volatile political discussions, says Leigh Steere, co-founder of Managing People Better. “If discussions become heated in your office — and if you are a manager — call a staff meeting and say to everyone, ‘If you want to debrief the presidential debates, I need to ask you to do that outside office hours and at a non-work location’,” Steere explains to us.

If a co-worker is offending you by constant talk of their candidate or by posting political paraphernalia in their workspace, deal with it one-on-one. “It’s best to speak with that person privately, expressing your concern with ‘I’ statements,” advises Steere. “For example, ‘I can see you really care about the Congressional race, and I think it’s cool that you are spending your free time helping with the campaign. But I am really uncomfortable with all the signs and discussion here at work. I would appreciate if you would take it down.’ If the ardent campaigner persists, you may need to talk with HR.”

What if your employer is pushing a certain candidate? “There needs to be some employee communication explaining any endorsements and why the company is making those endorsements,” says Steere.

Forbes, however, writes in “15 Tips For Talking Politics At Work,” that “healthy political discussion might actually be good for you and your co-workers. Through policy debates you might learn of your colleague’s upbringing and empathize in a way you hadn’t before, which might explain why they execute a project in a certain manner.”

Still, there is a certain etiquette  when talking politics with your co-workers.

Here are some tips from Forbes:

  • Check your levels. Since political conversations can evoke strong emotions, it’s best to keep a pulse on your own volume when speaking.
  • Expect respect. You can have opposing viewpoints without resorting to derogatory comments.
  • Know your facts. When political conversations are at their best it’s a discussion of philosophical differences, not arguments over truths.
  • Too hot to handle. Don’t dive into a topic just to rile people up. Be constructive with your conversation and work to have a better understanding of where others are coming from.
  • Don’t expect to reach consensus. Most people’s opinions are shaped over their lifetime. It’s a high bar to believe you can change the opinion of someone from pro-life to pro-choice, for example, within your lunch hour. When you recognize that you and your co-worker have both made your points and each of you have nothing to add to the conversation, it’s fine to acknowledge that you simply agree to disagree.
  • Find common ground. When you find these points of agreements, they mark a good jumping-off point to move the conversation forward in a considerate manner.
  • Remember you’re speaking to someone you work with. In the heat of a debate it’s easy to forget that you’ll have to sit next to this person tomorrow, and the next day, and the next day…

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