It seems obvious, but it may not be to everyone, and either way, it bears repeating: don’t talk politics at work. It has never been a good idea but in the current hyper-partisan environment of today, it’s a suggestion that you might want to consider making a rule.
It’s great to have a collegial environment and hang out with your coworkers at lunch or on breaks. And it’s nice to talk about common interests, current events, or popular books or TV shows. Conversation doesn’t need to be work, work, work all the time. But when it comes to political opinions, the workplace is not the forum. The potential for problems, large and small, is just too great. You might simply end up with angry team members and hurt feelings. But you could be opening yourself up to more serious issues.
- The possibility of misunderstanding is too high to risk it. The likelihood that everyone agrees and is supporting the same candidates and issues is low. Which means the likelihood that the conversation will end badly is high. There is no reason to risk it. Work is not the place to try to convince someone of the merits of your argument or change their mind about a vote. Even though it may start out friendly, and even though no one intends to be pushy or escalate things, it often ends up that way. The only surefire way to avoid it is to never bring up politics in the first place!
- Many workplaces have formal rules against political activities in the workplace. Companies want to guard against the possibility of discrimination or harassment claims. It can start as a simple discussion but before you know it, things have become heated and someone has said something inappropriate. And from there it can all too easily end up with someone feeling that someone has retaliated because of what was said, or that they were passed over for promotion because of their views; a lawsuit ensues, etc. Contrary to what many may think, free speech is not unlimited or a guaranteed right at work. Companies have the right to set and enforce reasonable restrictions. Make sure you aren’t running afoul of company policy before you speak up or post a bumper sticker in your cube.
So, what should you do?
- Change the subject. Don’t say you don’t want to talk about it in a confrontational manner or in a way that creates similar drama. You’re defeating the purpose. You can change the conversation with something like “it’s generally best if I don’t discuss politics at work. I did see a great movie this weekend. How was your weekend?” Or make light of it, “political discussions can end up getting controversial, there was plenty of that in the ball game last night – did you see it?”
- Be polite and affirming BUT change the subject. Saying something along the lines of, “I appreciate your viewpoint but I prefer not to talk politics at work.” Perhaps acknowledge the importance of voting and how exciting it is to participate in the democratic process but don’t venture into expressing an opinion. The key is to be polite but change the topic. Be prepared to remain silent if possible. Don’t join the group discussion if you can avoid it. It is better to avoid starting a conversation you didn’t want to have and that can so easily become problematic. How would you react if someone wanted to talk about your salary, or what others were making? It’s a similarly taboo subject. Take a cue from how you would answer that and use the same tactics.
Election day 2018 might be over, but the need to have a strategy for what to do when politics becomes the subject remains. It’s important for all of us, but especially team leaders and those in management, to make the workplace a comfortable and welcoming environment for all, where the focus is rightfully on getting the job done. We all have our part to play in this goal. When it comes to politics, the safest and best way to handle things is to not engage. Don’t talk politics at work. It’s a policy that can’t fail you!
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