Monday, January 14, 2008

Discussing Politics at Work

After this last weekend, I knew I couldn't put off writing about this any longer.

I need to write about politics. Well, more specifically, about what's being said in politics these days and what will be said in the months to come.

As the presidential races heat up, the talk is getting a bit harsher from all involved. Race and gender biases by various candidates are being subtly -- and not so subtly -- bandied about. Religion, income, personal relationships and quite possibly the cereal eaten every morning are being scrutinized and analyzed by pundits, other politicians and the media.

And part of this debate is taking place around the workplace water cooler, in the lunch room, at the conference table and probably in the restroom. It's inevitable that the workplace will become part of the national conversation.

Still, politics in the workplace is a tricky thing. For one, some people would rather have a sharp stick stuck in their eye than discuss politics. For another, some bosses get very nervous when employees starting debating race and gender and whether a government conspiracy is keeping Big Foot in hiding at Camp David. They have enough on their plates without refereeing discussions on immigration, the environment and Social Security.

At the same time, it's inevitable that despite what bosses want, politics are likely to be discussed at some point in a cubicle near you this year. So, what's the best way to handle it so that you maintain harmonious relations with your boss and your co-workers? The key is remembering that we're a nation of diverse opinions, and the moment you quit showing respect for someone at work having a view different than yours, then you have crossed the line -- and that could cost you and your career.

Some things to think about:

1. You can keep your mouth shut. No one says you must express an opinion about a candidate -- you are at work after all. Just sort of smile and say, "I'd rather not get into it," and find something else to do (like your job). Stay cool and don't let someone drag you into political discussions by making outlandish statements that will get your hackles up. Responding emotionally in such a situation can backfire and lead to you offering explanations in the boss's office.

2. Discreet is your middle name. Wearing an Obama T-shirt to work, plastering your cubicle with Clinton bumper stickers or having a Huckabee screen saver is not a good idea. That sort of blatant political stand is best saved for your personal time. Feel free to wear your underwear with the donkeys on them -- it will be your little secret.

3. Keep it off company time. Don't make phone calls, use the Internet, the copier, the shredder, the pencil sharpener or the stapler for anything that smacks of political work. Ask members of your political group or organization to contact you at home or through private e-mail.

I believe we will have some exciting dicussions about candidates in the months to come, and I certainly don't want to discourage anyone from participating in these talks. Just remember that if you want to make sure your career or workplace relationships aren't derailed by politics, keep your political message at work confined to "Let's all remember to vote."



Anonymous said...

One piece of advice my father gave me: never talk about politics or religion at work.

I used that exact comment the other day when a co-worker was going a bit too far with his commentary on the election.

This co-worker became very apologetic very quickly after hearing that comment. I think many people don't realize just how uncomfortable such commentary can make people feel.

I have very strong beliefs, but have learned over time, and from my father's advice, that most people who you know in a working capacity don't care. And it is best to keep it that way.

Anita said...

I think if more of us listened to our Dad we'd all be in a better place! Thanks for the insight -- we have to keep in mind that politicians have the ability to be just peachy-keen with one another after they've ripped each other to shreds because it's "just politics." But that isn't easy for the rest of us to do, and demolishing relationships in the workplace can be very detrimental to our career success and happiness.