Politics in the Workplace
What you should stop saying at work….
Normally when we think of office politics, we think of work gossip, eager employees trying to move up the ladder, and knowing whom to approach when you need an extra budget for your project. Lately it seems as though office politics seem to have been set completely aside and real politics have taken its place. With the RNC and DNC just behind us, we are inching closer to Election Day, and opinions about the Presidential candidates seem to be at the forefront of everyone’s minds.
The old rule of not discussing politics, religion or money seems to have taken a back seat to the now daily conversations around candidate and supporter speeches, political stances, twitter remarks, and the like. In our daily lives, we may be able to walk away from a conversation or unfriend someone who has an opposing view on Facebook; but this task becomes quite complicated when it comes to co-workers, clients, and business colleagues.
On July 19th, SHRM published an article that states “26% of people surveyed note greater political volatility in the workplace than in previous years.” Although this is not the majority, it is still a lofty amount and the key contributing factor to the increased vocals of employees on their political views. Not many businesses have company guidelines that include the discussion of politics, and that may be because “it is illegal to ban political conversations in the workplace but also impossible to enforce” according to another SHRM article. With that in mind, I decided to share my most trusted tips for dealing with politics in a work environment.
Here are my top tips for handling politics at work:
All political talk is loaded talk
It is too easy to offend someone or get offended yourself when talking about politics. Since many of these issues deal with fundamental values and beliefs, it is easy to spark a fire at a moment’s notice. A question as simple as “Did you see the speech last night” could lead to a full-fledged debate which could quickly result in conflict with a coworker.
The solution? When someone starts turning the conversation political it is easier to stop the conversation before it gets started than having to dig yourself out of a hole. An excellent way to change the topic is by adhering to the “Yes, but” rule. A few examples of this are “Yes, but I am really interested in discussing the new episode of Game of Thrones” or, “Yes, but I have to head off so let’s talk later.”
Use humor sparingly
It is common for us to rely on humor during awkward conversations or when we feel uncomfortable. Unfortunately, an ill-timed joke can have the adverse effect and end up exacerbating an already tense situation. Humor is as subjective as a person’s favorite flavor of ice cream. Instead of cracking a joke that could potentially offend someone, try lightening the mood by changing the subject to more neutral topics.
Some people love a good debate, and they are usually the ones to bring up the topic of politics in the workplace. While I do enjoy a lively discussion, the office and politics are never a good combination. Another tool to use in these situations is to stay as neutral as possible. While I have my opinions, I understand the ramifications of getting into an argument with a client or coworker. My most trusted neutral answers are:
- “That is a really interesting view, thanks for sharing.”
- “I can see where you are coming from.”
- If someone asks me a yes or no question I will often answer “Sure” since it is more neutral and noncommittal.
If you feel like you need to respond, do so with courtesy and respect
Sometimes, we cannot help ourselves. When we hear someone speaking about a topic we feel passionately about it is sometimes hard to stay close-lipped and neutral. In these situations, I highly urge you to take an additional beat to really think about what you are going to say and get your response in order. A few general guidelines to keep in mind are:
- Always stay respectful of the other person. You do not have to agree with their opinions to do so.
- If you can come from a place of fact versus opinion, it could help keep the conversation from getting too personal.
- End with a positive note such as “I don’t agree, but that is what makes this country great, our freedom to speak about these topics!” or, “I appreciate you listening to my opinion and think this was a great conversation.” It is surprising how far a kind sentiment can go in these situations.
- If possible, ask the person to get a drink or dinner after work so you can discuss the topic out of a work environment. This is helpful in reminding all parties that we are more than just our jobs and have complex lives that help to shape each person’s stance.
Take a Walk
As a last note, I want to remind everyone that if they feel uncomfortable or like they cannot stay neutral, that they have the option to walk away. When emotions are high, sometimes the best choice is just to end the conversation and take a moment to yourself to collect your thoughts. It is better to say “Excuse me” and leave the discussion rather than to say something that you might regret.
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