Make us your home page
Instagram
Working | Divisive chatter

Office politics difficult to navigate in election year

As we enter the meat of the 2012 presidential campaign and our eyes and ears are bombarded with negativity, many are wondering about political chatter in the workplace and whether it's ever a good idea.

The historical answer is, "No."

People are undoubtedly going to get into political discussions or disputes at work. The political climate in this country is far too hot to prevent it, so the best thing you can do as a boss or worker is be prepared and use a little common sense.

I spoke first with Daniel Prywes, a partner at the Washington, D.C., law firm Bryan Cave LLP. "Employers don't want their employees getting into enraged disputes over politics," he said. "Political discussion can stir friction and acrimony and lower productivity. A self-interested employer will likely want to limit that kind of activity."

But the laws protecting employee speech in the workplace vary from state to state and tend to not be overly explicit. "An employer certainly has the right to limit employee use of company resources, email systems, bulletin boards, telephone — certainly company letterhead," Prywes said. "Employers also aren't expected to pay employees for politicking, only for working. So if an employee is engaging in political activity on the clock, that could be grounds for proper discipline."

Another issue is workers wearing campaign buttons or decorating cubicles or offices with political signs. Prywes said policies on that need to take into consideration how much a worker is exposed to clients or customers. Most companies don't want to have their brand equated with a particular party or ideology, so managers would have a right to restrict the display of political material if it could harm the company's reputation.

But when it comes to chatty co-workers, it's impossible to wholly prevent political discussions.

So, whether you're a boss or an employee, you need to learn to enter and exit these conversations skillfully.

Peggy Klaus, an executive coach and humble author of Brag! The Art of Tooting Your Own Horn Without Blowing It, follows a few simple steps when someone starts talking politics.

First, don't be afraid to use a little humor. When Klaus, who hails from Berkeley, Calif., is talking to a hard-core Republican she says, "Look, I come from the land of fruits and nuts, I can't go back there if they find out I've been hanging out with a Republican!"

The second step, she said, is to know what political topics make you particularly angry. Have at the ready a "spectrum of responses" that are appropriate — that way you can react in a respectful way when the hot-button issues come up.

"I like to have ways of saying, 'I love you even though you're so diametrically opposed to me,' " Klaus said. "Otherwise I might jump on their back and start pounding."

Her next step is to ask questions such as "Tell me more about why you think that?"

"First off, you might learn something different," she said. "And you're training yourself to be compassionate and inquiring and to not sound accusatory."

Finally, don't take anything too personally. Just because someone disagrees with you on a political topic doesn't mean that person's wrong. It just means that you think differently from them.

For a final thought on this, I turned to Roshini Rajkumar, a communication coach and author of Communicate That!

She advised having a reason for getting into a political talk before doing so. "If you're going to enter into these kinds of conversations, even if it's around the water cooler, have some intent," Rajkumar said. "Maybe your intent is to educate someone about a view or a candidate he or she doesn't know; maybe your intent is to truly try to convince someone. It should never be just to blow off steam or make casual conversation."

And when you talk, be authentic. "If you want to share your opinion about a candidate or about a social issue, don't lie, don't put on a pretense of any kind," she said. "But know that not everyone shares your opinion."

And while it may not conform with our modern-day approach to politics — which is disagree, yell, then yell some more — try to show respect for your colleague's view of the world.

Office politics difficult to navigate in election year 06/23/12 [Last modified: Saturday, June 23, 2012 4:31am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

Copyright: For copyright information, please check with the distributor of this item, Tribune News Service.
    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Sen. Nelson urges FEMA to examine high number of denied flood claims

    Banking

    Sen. Bill Nelson urged FEMA on Tuesday to ensure fairness, proper oversight and transparency in processing Hurricane Irma aid following a report by the Palm Beach Post that 90 percent of Irma claims under the National Flood Insurance Program had been denied.

    Sen. Bill Nelson is calling for FEMA to ensure the flood claims process post-Hurricane Irma is fair and ethical following reports that 90 percent of claims under the National Flood Insurance Program were denied. | [Times file photo]
  2. Amazon expands in Tampa with Pop-Up shop in International Plaza

    Retail

    TAMPA — A new retailer known largely for its online presence has popped up at International Plaza and Bay Street.

    Shoppers walk past the new Amazon kiosk Tuesday at the International Plaza in Tampa. The kiosk, which opened last month, offers shoppers an opportunity to touch and play with some of the products that Amazon offers.
[CHRIS URSO   |   Times]

  3. Study: Florida has fourth-most competitive tax code

    Banking

    Florida's tax code is the fourth most competitive in the country, according to a study released Tuesday by nonprofit group Tax Foundation.

    Florida has the fourth-most competitive tax code, a study by the Tax Foundation said. Pictured is  Riley Holmes, III, H&R Block tax specialist, helping a client with their tax return in April. | [SCOTT KEELER, Times]
  4. Trigaux: On new Forbes 400 list of U.S. billionaires, 35 now call Florida their home

    Personal Finance

    The latest Forbes 400 richest people in America was unveiled Tuesday, with 35 billionaires on that list calling Florida home. That's actually down from 40 Florida billionaires listed last year when a full 10 percent listed declared they were Floridians by residence.

    Edward DeBartolo, Jr., shopping center developer and  former San Francisco 49ers Owner, posed with his bronze bust last year during the NFL Hall of Fame Enshrinement Ceremony in Canton, Ohio. DeBartolo remains the wealthiest person in Tampa Bay according to the Forbes 400 list released Tuesday. 
[Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images]
  5. Clearwater attorney accused of condo foreclosure trickery fights back

    Real Estate

    The Clearwater lawyer accused of tricking a bidder into paying $458,100 for a gulf-front condo now plans to contest a judge's order tossing out the sale.

    John Houde, left, looks in the direction of Clearwater lawyer and real estate investor Roy C. Skelton, foreground, in August during a hearing Sixth Judicial Circuit court Judge Jack St. Arnold at the Pinellas County Courthouse. The judge agreed with Houde's allegation that he was duped by Skelton in thinking he bought a Redington Beach condo for $458,100 out of a foreclosure auction. Now Skelton is fighting back. 
[DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD   |   Times]