Six tips to keep in mind when you’re tempted to discuss politics on the job.
Seems like everyone I know is eagerly casting their ballot for the Nov. 6 midterm elections and sharing photos online of themselves doing so. Many are zealously ringing doorbells, phone banking, writing postcards, donating money, protesting, peacefully assembling and otherwise campaigning for their causes and candidates of choice.
With all this election fever in the air — and all the trepidation people feel about the results we may wake up to on Nov. 7 — it’s inevitable that some political talk will seep into the workplace. If you work at a nonprofit, social advocacy group or government agency, talking politics on the job probably comes with the territory. But for the rest of us, talking politics at the office can be a professional landmine.
Following are some suggestions for navigating the current political climate at work.
Read the room. Assess your audience before airing your political views. Is the person you’re thinking of sharing your political hopes and frustrations with likely to share your point of view? If not, can you envision the two of you thoughtfully discussing your differences of opinion without things escalating into a heated debate? When in doubt, zip your lip.
Honor the org chart. Consider your relationship to your audience before you speak. Managers, airing your political views to a conference room of direct reports can make your team extremely uncomfortable. And worker bees, think carefully before you spout off about your preferred candidate to the VP in the elevator. Weigh the slim gains you stand to make for your political candidate against the potential professional losses should you alienate your audience.
Don’t try to change minds. There’s no harm in asking why a co-worker supports a certain candidate or initiative you oppose, as long as you plan to hear out their rationale. If you can calmly state why your opinion differs, by all means go for that, too. Resist the urge, however, to verbally duke out your political differences of opinion with co-workers. In all likelihood, you won’t convince them to change their vote. And the last thing you want to do is foster animosity with a teammate you regularly work alongside.
Know when to disengage. If a conversation gets too confrontational or a co-worker tries to lure you into a political discussion you don’t want to have, diffuse the bomb and walk away. Saying “I don’t agree and need to get back to work” is a perfectly valid response. So is saying “I don’t talk politics at the office.”
Think twice before connecting on social media. Do you really want the office hothead going after your politically outspoken uncle who tagged you on Facebook? (Do you really want to clean up that professional and familial mess?) If you post about politics online, choose carefully who you befriend and grant access to your posts. Leave the social media feuds to our political leaders.
Help co-workers vote. Glaring exception to all the above: If a co-worker expresses that they’re unsure how to vote, where their ballot is, who or what to vote for or why they should vote in the first place, absolutely step in. Help them check with the Secretary of State if they misplaced or didn’t get a ballot. Point them toward our state-issued Voters’ Guide if they need one. And do your diplomatic best to convince them to exercise their right to vote.