Beware of Political Discussion in the Office

It is the height of the political season, and you may be a person who feels the need to share your political views in the office. But, don’t listen to Nike on this one. No. No. No. Halt. Desist. Freeze. Just don’t do it.

This is especially good advice after the debacle of the first presidential debate last week. Whatever side you were on, it is no exaggeration to say that it was a debacle. It was a shipwreck. It was a dumpster fire. If you watched all 90 minutes of it, you probably felt as brain dead as I did afterward. But you may want to stifle yourself and keep your thoughts to yourself in the office setting. Here’s why.

It can be very risky discussing politics with colleagues. Although you may think you know how they trend on the political spectrum, you should err on the side of caution. Even if their opinions may be similar to yours, similar and the same can be light years apart.

When I was growing up in a small town in the Midwest, my family had a rule. You don’t discuss politics and religion outside the nuclear family. Even inside the nuclear family it could get very interesting and even a little ugly because my parents were educated and opinionated people who did not always agree. I think that they cancelled each other’s votes out on a regular basis, and don’t get me started on religion. My Mom was a devoted church goer, and my Dad was counsel to the church board and taught Sunday School. But he took his kids hiking and bird watching during many a church service ‘cuz I’m pretty sure he was an agnostic!

A recent article by Joel Patterson, a ForbesBook author, entitled “How To Prevent Political Discussions From Polarizing Your Workplace” suggests the following — with a little twist on those themes from yours truly.

Remember the Core Values of your Workplace. In a law firm, those core values should include respect for others and also for their opinions. If that is your guide star for any political discussions you think you must have, you may survive without major interpersonal upheavals. But, it is still risky. Once you introduce the subject, you may have to pivot and dodge when the road gets bumpy. Some people find that very hard.

Be Aware That You Will Be Judged By Your Behavior. If you disrupt the workplace with your strong opinions, you will be judged. Take that to the bank. Any time you make others feel uncomfortable, they will judge you. Even if some of your colleagues agree with your opinions, those same colleagues will judge you for the disruption. It is a no-win situation.

Practice the Fine Art of De-escalation. Let’s assume that you have taken the leap into the unknown and are in a full-blown workplace discussion of politics AND that it gets heated and a bit out of control. How you handle yourself at that point could be very important to your professional future. All eyes will be on you. Will you be cool and agree to disagree? Or will you pour gasoline on the flames? Hard to know until you are in the thick of it. Again, very risky.

If you are not convinced by now that “Just don’t do it” is the right approach to political discussions in the workplace, I can’t help you. You are helpless and on your own.

I just hope you make it through to the end of the year — because that may be how long it takes to sort out the mess we are in right now.

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