As Mark Twain so eloquently put it, "Common etiquette says not to talk about politics, sex, religion, or money. But these are the most interesting things to discuss!" Twain was spot on. While it may be tempting to join water cooler conversations, there are guidelines to help save anger and/or hurt feelings in the office.
As our planet deals with a pandemic, economic chaos, and an upcoming American presidential election, it’s safe to say that office politics can be a tricky area. Discussions about current topics can take a quick turn and leave employees, owners, and managers with a bad taste in their mouths.
Here are do’s and don’ts to help you address – and avoid – possible political conflicts at work.
Dos and Don’t’s: Political Discussions in the Office
Do: Know Your Company’s Policies
Many business owners have had the foresight to put guidelines in place regarding political clothes or hats. Also, a big no-no should be distributing campaign material to coworkers. Save yourself a scolding by keeping political talk out of the office, and off of internal email and chats. If you have co-workers on your social platforms, be aware that a simple screen shot of a hot-topic post may cause problems.
Don’t: Be wary of out-of-the-office events
Your co-workers or boss can get offended outside of the office too. It’s best to follow the employee guidelines at dinner or happy hour with colleagues. You don’t want others to have a poor opinion of you based on your political beliefs. This can even cause communication problems internally, affecting business productivity and even the bottom line.
Do: Be a nice person
If it’s OK to engage, keep it as lighthearted as possible. You don’t really think you’re going to change deep political views with a casual conversation, do you? Lectures or a debate are rarely welcome.
Don't: Talk about heated issues
Taxes or the environment might be safe topics (might) but women’s reproductive rights, police brutality, or the pandemic are probably to be avoided, especially right after a legislative decision is handed down.
Do: Walk away if needed
Trapped in a discussion going south? The old “Whoops, I’ve got a phone call to make,” or even “need a bathroom break” can help you get out of an uncomfortable encounter. If possible, steer the conversation to a neutral topic. What are the Kardashian’s up to this week?
As much as you think you know, you’re probably not as aware of coworkers deeply held beliefs as you think. You know what they say about the word “assume”? You might be wrong as coworkers are about you.
Additionally, ask yourself, what’s your end game. Are you celebrating or complaining? Both can seem confrontational. And a passive-aggressive approach rarely works.
Finally, simply listen to others. Just like engaging with coworkers, you never know when you’ll learn something.