Wednesday, April 4, 2012
Growing up, I had it drilled into my head that there are two things you don't talk about at work: religion and politics. Personally, I'd add sex as a third topic to avoid, but still agree on the first two.
Politics is a hugely sensitive topic for some, though not all. People tend to take their politics personally, and issues and candidates can create an almost religious fervor, with folks evangelizing for the left or the right. Especially during campaign years, it may not be possible to completely avoid the topic, so here are some tips on how to avoid a potential sticky situation.
Be neutral. This is as much about the unspoken as it is the verbal. It's tempting to nod along with a speaker when they're talking in a group, but try to keep your body language as neutral as possible. You could also take the opposite tact and play devil's advocate to everybody and regularly contradict yourself, leaving others guessing about where you actually stand (which I personally think is sort of fun if you keep it light and low key).
Be a social butterfly. Even when you don't say anything, associating too closely with a group that is vocal about their politics may lead others (like your superiors) to indirectly associate you with that group's views as well. That doesn't mean you have to jump ship from a group completely, but it might be time to expand your circle to include others with differing opinions.
Be direct. We all have that one coworker who will ask the awkward question and put you on the spot. If you don't want to talk about politics in the workplace, then just say so. By making it about your own personal policies, it is less likely that people will take your choice as a slight on them. Just make sure to be consistent...word gets around.
Be funny. This is harder said than done (humor, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder), but if you can pull it off, try a joke. Perhaps you could start a mock campaign for your boss as a write-in candidate to lighten the mood—just make sure they know it's a joke and that you're not just trying to get rid of them.
Take it off site. If you have friends at work that share your political interests, or if you're campaigning for office yourself, save it for your own time and another place. Work should be a neutral zone, politically, but it is a valuable network, so if you do find others who share your interests, don't be afraid to strike up a friendship outside of work, too. Do not—really, please don't— display campaign materials (for candidates or issues) in your workspace.
If you work in a political office or for a politician, this is pretty moot, but for the rest of us, these tips can help avoid landmines. While most people can separate a others' political leanings from their professional work, keeping your politics to yourself can still save you from unnecessary disagreements or tension (you never know who's keeping score against you). And who doesn't want their workday to go a little smoother?
Do you mix political opinions into your professional dealings? What tips do you have for addressing (or not addressing) sensitive political topics at work?