With election season gearing up, impassioned political debate has the potential to escalate into conflict of a deeply personal nature, some of which may create bad will among coworkers that can far outlast the current issues of the day.
While a certain amount of political discussion at work is unavoidable, it’s not surprising that such talk often leads to heated and emotional argument. One survey found that 66 percent of respondents say their coworkers discuss politics at work, while 46 percent have witnessed a political argument at the office.
Political viewpoints often serve as umbrellas that cover a spectrum of deeply held personal beliefs informed by an individual’s religion, culture, upbringing, economic class and other influences.
Best practice dictates that employees avoid political discussion of any form during the regular conduct of business. Interjecting political commentary into meetings, work-related e-mails or other official communication is highly unprofessional and grossly inappropriate. It can decrease productivity, create unnecessary distraction and potentially alienate fellow employees or clients.
While the line is clear in the conduct of official business, it’s not as clear when socializing with coworkers while on the job. The following guidelines will help you steer clear of any unintended harmful side effects that may come about when talking politics.
Be mindful of those around you. While a boisterous political discussion may seem to be the perfect way to spend your lunch break, others may not share your enthusiasm for politics. Never take an individual’s silence as agreement. It is equally likely to signal discomfort.
Before launching into a political discussion, ask all within earshot two questions:
- Are you comfortable having a political discussion with me?
- Do you mind overhearing me talk about politics?
If the answer to either of these questions is no, then it is not appropriate to continue.
Remember that others may feel as strongly as you. While it can be frustrating when someone refuses to be swayed by your seemingly reasonable arguments, it’s important to remember that others have deeply and honestly held convictions just like you. Bullying and/or pestering others until they come around to your viewpoint is inappropriate behavior and will likely create conflict, workplace disruption and hard feelings.
Avoiding escalation always begins with respecting the rights of others to believe differently than you. When in doubt, it’s best to “agree to disagree” and drop the issue.
Never make it personal. People of good faith can disagree on all manner of things. A particular political viewpoint is nothing more than a set of ideas and has no bearing on an individual’s integrity or intelligence. Never allow political disagreement to become personal. Always take care to avoid inflammatory language, personal insults and sweeping generalizations.
A good rule of thumb is to allow your sensibilities to be guided by basic courtesy. Follow the same conversational etiquette that you would follow if you were a guest in your coworker’s home.