Talking Politics at Work: What You Need to Know

“Who are you voting for?” People love to talk politics at work. Whether you’re chatting by an office water cooler or instant messaging colleagues from across the world, when it’s election season, political banter tends to run rampant. Should you engage? Do you know how to diffuse a difficult conversation with a coworker who just won’t give up? Before joining a political discussion in the workplace, it’s a good idea to weigh the consequences of sharing your political opinions.

What’s Your Company’s Policy on Politics at Work?

Have you read your company’s handbook recently? Your business, regardless of size, may have strict policies about politics in the workplace. The policies may cover a wide range of activities, such as hanging a political cartoon in your cubicle or wearing a political T-shirt or button, and may differ in severity. If the company policy isn’t clear or doesn’t exist, ask your supervisor for clarification.

What Are Your Motivations?

People tell stories and share personal details as a way to communicate, build trust and grow relationships with others, and this is especially true in the workplace, where many people spend one-third of their lifetimes, according to the World Health Organization.

In an interview with Harvard Business Review, Liane Davey, author of “You First: Inspire Your Team to Grow Up, Get Along, and Get Stuff Done,” warns against talking politics as a means of bringing people around to your way of thinking. It isn’t likely to work, but it is likely to make things awkward between you and your colleagues.

Are You Being Respectful?

Funnily enough, some of the best advice for any workplace situation was spoken by Thumper to Bambi in the 1942 film “Bambi.” He says, “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say nothing at all.” Like religion, politics is a topic of conversation that can escalate quickly, and everyone has a right to their own opinion. However, as citizens of the professional world, everyone also has the responsibility to be respectful to their peers.

If you end up in a disagreement with a coworker who continues to provoke you, be firm and say, “I don’t feel comfortable discussing politics at work,” and stop responding, no matter what.

Are You Sure You Want to Post That?

What you post on your personal social media accounts can creep into your professional life just as quickly as you can click “publish.” Are you friends with your colleagues or any clients on your personal social media accounts? Are you sure? Even if your accounts are mostly private, you never know who has access to what you post online. Remember, a mutual acquaintance could take a screenshot of your post and share it with your coworker without you knowing.

Similarly, what you choose to blog about may be taken as a representation of your company, even if it’s published on a personal website. Refer to your company’s social media policy as applicable. If you find yourself tempted to post political banter on your personal social media account, think twice. If you wouldn’t say it in person, should you really say it online? Some things are best kept to yourself.

We all feel passionately about life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, but it’s important to keep company policy and coworkers’ feelings in mind before you exercise your freedom of speech. Don’t forget, getting on a soapbox isn’t likely to change people’s feelings, and remember that anything you post on social media is there for the whole world to see, and your company may take political discussion more seriously than you realize.

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