Four Caveats to Consider Before You Talk Politics at Work

Today's political discourse is often far from civil, but it's still possible for healthy—and respectful—political expression to take place at work. Keep these factors in mind when you want to share your point of view.

Given today’s political climate, and given that associations’ own advocacy work usually takes place in the political realm, it’s natural for conflicting opinions to crop up among staff. Occasionally, they may flare into heated disagreement that can cause plenty of headaches for both employees and their organizations.

With the political primary season in full swing, take care before you share your hot take or start canvassing the office for your favorite candidate.  Keep these caveats in mind to help you keep political conversations respectful and enlightening.

People say they don’t want to talk politics at work—then do it anyway. In a recent study by the employee review site Glassdoor, 60 percent of workers said they find talking politics in the office unacceptable, and another 60 percent worry that talking politics could harm career opportunities. Even so, 57 percent of employees say they do so. The survey revealed strong political animosity among some employees, with nearly one in four Republicans and Democrats alike saying they would not want to work with someone who votes for a presidential candidate they don’t like.

Concerns of being “silenced” linger. A 2018 Indeed study differed significantly from the Glassdoor results, finding that only 20 percent of employees consider political discussions inappropriate. But 23 percent said certain political groups are often silenced—two-thirds of those respondents said conservative views get silenced and one-third said the same of liberal views.  Paul Wolf, Indeed’s senior vice president of human resources, said employees don’t seem to see censorship coming from the bosses. “[P]eer pressure seems to have a stronger effect than perceived pressure from corporate leadership,” Wolfe wrote on the Society for Human Resource Management blog.

Off-the-clock comments can extend into the workday. Maybe your coworkers get a little fast and loose about their political views during happy hour, or maybe they’re more willing to share an opinion on Facebook or Twitter than around the water cooler. But this can backfire, says Lynze Wardle Lenio at The Muse, who has some advice for those with opinions they’d like to share. “A good rule of thumb: Pretend everyone around you is of the opposite party, and plan your political comments accordingly, even after hours,” Lenio says.

You’re likely not going to change any minds, so aim for something else. As VitalSmarts founder Joseph Grenny told Harvard Business Review in 2016, the risk of a political discussion going awry is high, especially if your goal is to convince a coworker to come around to your way of thinking. Grenny suggests embracing a discussion as an opportunity to get to know someone else.

“Think, ‘I’m going to come out of this dialogue with empathy for other people, new ideas, or a new understanding of how other people think,’” he says, adding that putting parameters around the discussion can help. “Say, ‘We’re going to talk about this for 10 minutes, each of us will get five minutes to share our opinion, and we’re going to part as friends.’”

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Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a former senior editor for Associations Now. MORE

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