Talking Politics at Work

Who are you voting for? It’s a question that’s become a regular part of workplace conversations from Alaska to Maine as people speculate about who will become our next president. But are such discussions are appropriate?

While talking about politics on the job used to be regarded as poor form, employees today are more likely to chat about this once-taboo topic. In a survey by our company, 67% of respondents said discussing political campaigns and candidates is acceptable as long as the debate isn’t too heated.

Given this shift in attitude and the intense interest surrounding the election, it’s useful to know how to diplomatically talk about politics at work. Following are some tips:

Take it easy. You may love Clinton or McCain, but announcing it to everyone who walks by your cubicle, or “campaign headquarters” for your candidate of choice, isn’t going to change anyone’s mind. Indeed, imposing your political views on others is likely to offend them. Instead, tread carefully as you enter into political conversations; always consider your audience and share your thoughts in a non-confrontational manner.

Avoid hot-button questions. You may be comfortable divulging your political views, but some of your colleagues won’t feel the same way. Asking co-workers about whom they support or how they feel about certain political issues is a sure-fire way to damage relationships. Respect your colleagues’ privacy by not putting them on the spot with pointed questions.

Don’t be a pundit. With breaking news so readily available, it’s tempting to start impromptu “Did you hear …?” conversations. If you’re a political junkie, save your media consumption for after work—you’ll boost your productivity and avoid offending (or distracting) co-workers.

Know the rules. Before forwarding a political e-mail or displaying a poster or bumper sticker on your office wall, make sure you understand your company’s rules regarding the public support of political causes. According to a survey by the American Management Association, 39% of executives, managers and employees said their company has a written policy prohibiting the distribution or posting of material that endorses a political party or candidate. You also should be familiar with your firm’s unwritten rules: If others don’t wear Obama buttons, for example, it may be unofficially frowned upon.

Diplomacy ‘rules.’ As Charles de Gaulle once said, “The big thing in politics is to know when it is time to leave.” If a friendly water-cooler chat is turning into an emotionally charged interrogation, bow out of the conversation gracefully. You might say, “Sorry, I’m going to steer clear of that question” or “I had better get back to work.”

With many months to go before the election, it’s likely there will be even more opportunities to discuss politics at work. Such conversations certainly make the workplace more interesting. Just make sure you tread lightly when talk turns to political, and remain respectful of all points of view.

The Creative Group is a specialized staffing service placing creative, advertising, marketing and web professionals on a project basis with a variety of firms.