by Lauren Schieffer, CSP
“I just can’t seem to get away from it!” The frustrated admin was seeking insight. “Every day, my boss and my coworkers keep harping on politics in the office, and I just don’t want to discuss it!” I truly understood her frustration.
We have all heard the admonition, “Never discuss religion or politics—especially in the office.” With today’s hyper-contentious political environment, though, that advice seems to be harder and harder to follow. Even when we want to, we can’t simply will our working environment to be an entirely politics-free zone. For many of us, we spend as much time with our coworkers as we do with our family. They become like family and hazardous subjects like politics and religion are bound to come up around the coffee maker, or at the company picnic.
Although many employers have policies in place intended to control or restrict political discussion at work, the vast majority do not; and discussing politics in the office can present, not only a potential disruption to productivity but they can also create a very tense working environment. In extreme cases, they can even foster open hostility. Coworkers who discover they disagree on hot-button issues such as health care, reproductive rights, immigration, defense spending or tax law, may find it difficult to set aside these differences to work together effectively on a project. The differences may even tear the fabric of trust between peers. In fact, research conducted by Robert Half found that 65 percent of workers surveyed feared the discussions about politics could get heated and end up offending someone.
Unfortunately, sometimes it’s simply not possible to prevent politics from popping up in a discussion at work. In that case, having some guidelines to navigate the mine-field can be helpful.
Know the Rules
Even though you may not be aware of them, many organizations have policies that prohibit wearing political clothing, slogans or insignia at work. Save yourself the long walk to the HR department by checking the rules before you put on that ball cap or lapel pin, posting propaganda material in your cubicle or printing out the latest meme on the company printer.
Don’t Initiate It
It’s always a dangerous choice to start a political discussion. You can’t predict or control how your colleague will react. By the same token, if a coworker or client asks your opinion about a contentious topic, remember you are not required to offer your opinion or thoughts on the matter.
Always Be Respectful
You do not have to respect someone to treat them with respect. Separate the person from the issue being discussed and keep it as light and easy going as possible. Never resort to name-calling or offensive remarks to make a point. No matter how strongly you feel about a subject, it is never productive to call someone who disagrees with you a “loser,” “jerk,” “idiot,” or worse.
Talking politics in the office can be a mind-field. When it can’t be avoided, don’t ever try to resolve the actual controversies—that is a fruitless and exhausting endeavor. Stay on the higher ground, remain calm and respectful, make your point if you have to and remember that you need to work productively together in spite of your differences.
Catch Lauren and other spectacular speakers at IAAP Summit 2019 in National Harbor, Maryland (just a short distance from Washington D.C.). Find out why IAAP Summit is the go-to conference for office and administrative professionals year-in and year-out.
As the daughter of a career Air Force officer, The Colonel’s Daughter, Lauren Schieffer, CSP gained a profound independence and ability to adapt to changing circumstances. The lessons she learned from “The Colonel” have helped her make smart decisions and overcome adversity with humility and a sense of humor. Lauren helps global audiences communicate respectfully and avoid unnecessary conflict. She has spoken in seven countries to associations, organizations, federal, state and local governments, and Fortune 500 companies.
One thought on “Dump the Drama! Navigating Political Discussions in the Workplace”
Thank you for this great and timely article! I work in state government and this has been my policy for quite some time. We have a boss here who likes to push the envelope and bring up political issues with my co-worker who he knows is easily riled up on certain view points. I have suggested that she not respond to his comments but she can’t help herself. I walk away most of the time when he brings up politics.