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Talking Politics at Work

Talking Politics at Work

Thad Peterson, Monster

In an election year, fodder for political debate is always abundant. As a result, discussions about the US presence in Iraq, the offshoring of US jobs, taxes, healthcare and other contentious issues can get heated.

If you’re a political junkie or a fan of healthy debate, it can be tough to contain yourself in times like these. What better way to spend lunch at the office with coworkers than by hammering away at one another about one hot-button political issue after another, right? That may be the case for you, but plenty of workers think work and politics simply don’t mix.

Let’s Take a Vote

Of 26,000-plus Monster users who responded to a poll, 30 percent said that when it comes to talking politics with coworkers, the best policy is “don’t ask, don’t tell.” Forty-six percent said the best way to deal with political discussions at work is to “listen, but keep your opinions to yourself.”

Your Patriotic Duty?

While most of the poll’s respondents indicated a preference for keeping their views to themselves, 22 percent felt the best option was to “stand up and be heard” on political issues.

“There’s nothing more American or patriotic than hearing and listening to an opposing opinion,” says Sandra Spataro, an assistant professor of organizational behavior at Yale University’s School of Management. Spataro says she’s “in favor of making things more explicit, talking through things that are on people’s minds in a natural, take-a-break kind of way so that they don’t fester in people’s minds and distract them from their work.”

But Spataro concedes that talking politics on the job should be equal to the amount of current events chitchat that normally takes place in the particular work setting. “The amount of casual [political] conversation should be consistent with what that workplace has done traditionally,” she says. “What you don’t want to do is introduce 10 minutes for politics talk in banking when that has never happened before. It should be something that occurs naturally or doesn’t happen at all.”

Spataro notes that “more creative, more collaborative environments – like high tech, advertising, media relations and research environments” are the types of industries where more open conversation about such matters tends to abound.

Warning to the Wise

The key to talking politics with colleagues is doing so without passing judgment or letting emotions carry you away. “As a manager, if I saw that there was an issue, I would remind people that there are standards of professionalism and common courtesy,” advises Spataro. “What you don’t want to do is introduce differences between employees that are going to bring in more conflict or negative sentiment.”

“If you can engender a culture of exchange – try to get rid of some of that judgment – in the end, you’re going to be healthier than suppressing conversation entirely,” she adds. “What you want to get to is the point where there’s going to be a healthy interchange.”

Of course, it’s prudent to always bear in mind that people may come to conclusions about you based on your political beliefs; the more you vocalize your political opinions, the more you leave yourself vulnerable to such judgments.

When it comes to discussing politics and its effect on your career, you may benefit from a nugget of advice from 30th US President Calvin Coolidge: “No man ever listened himself out of a job.”

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