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Politics in the Workplace

November 2nd, 2012

Office PoliticsIt’s almost Election Day, and that means that all across the nation emotions are running high. Sometimes it can be hard to navigate the murky waters of political discussion, especially in a work setting, so here are some tips for how to handle yourself at the crossroads of politics and your career.

Honestly, the advice you’ll probably hear the most is that it’s best to try to avoid the topic altogether. Making your political sentiments known can erode relations with your coworkers, drive customers away, and even possibly threaten your place in the company. It’s also important to note that Facebook and Twitter can count as workplace politics! If your colleagues can see your posts, or if you’re posting in a way that reflects on your company, you could face disciplinary action. Often it depends on the company’s policies and whether they think your private behavior is directly affecting your work performance, but it’s prudent not to risk it.

However, if you believe in being able to voice your opinions at work, there are a few tips to manage avoiding confrontations while discussing politics in the workplace.

  1. Choose your audience wisely. To avoid unnecessarily straining relationships with your colleagues, be careful about who you start discussions with. Coworkers that are trusted friends are the best audience. Also, take a cautious approach to avoid saying something that may be seen as offensive to the other person; don’t just assume that someone shares your views on issues. It would also be good to take some time to figure out your workplace’s written and unwritten rules for topics of conversation like these.
  2. Open dialogue and mutual respect. It’s important to remember that it’s highly unlikely you’ll be able to change someone’s mind about an issue, just like they probably won’t be able to change yours. Clearly showing your respect for other opinions and keeping it as an exchange of views rather than a heated debate will help all parties in the conversation keep their cool.
  3. Try to find common ground. Mutual respect is a lot easier to achieve if you reinforce the values you have in common with others. In many cases you probably both want the same thing; you just have different ideas on how it will be accomplished. Common ground will help you see things from your coworker’s point of view.
  4. Be aware of the situation. Obviously there are some situations that are more appropriate for these kinds of discussions than others. If your boss feels that the time you’re taking to engage in debate is affecting your job productivity, you could be in trouble. The best time for sensitive discussions with coworkers is outside of work time, either during breaks or outside of work altogether.
  5. Disengage from confrontation. If confrontation does arise, maintain your neutrality. Try to diplomatically steer the conversation to a different topic. If that doesn’t work, gracefully withdraw from the conversation and let them know that you’re just not feeling comfortable with where it’s headed.

Politics is one of those topics that is very polarizing and subjective. If you’re cognizant of your language and attitude, and the mood of those around you, providing a safe environment for open dialogue should hopefully be fairly straightforward. And if you’re ever in doubt, avoid sensitive topics altogether.

Posted by Deirdre Newton, Career Assistant

 

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