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. For Gov. Rick Scott, 'fighting' could mean vetoing entire state budget

    State Roundup

    Every day, Gov. Rick Scott is getting a lot of advice.

    The last time a Florida governor vetoed the education portion of the state budget was in 1983. Gov. Bob Graham blasted fellow Democrats for their “willing acceptance of mediocrity.”
  2. Potential new laws further curb Floridians' right to government in the Sunshine

    State Roundup

    TALLAHASSEE — From temporarily shielding the identities of murder witnesses to permanently sealing millions of criminal and arrest records, state lawmakers did more this spring than they have in all but one of the past 22 years to chip away at Floridians' constitutional guarantees to access government records and …

    The Legislature passed 17 new exemptions to the Sunshine Law, according to a tally by the First Amendment Foundation.
  3. Data breach exposes 469 Social Security numbers, thousands of concealed weapons holders

    Corporate

    Social Security numbers for up to 469 people and information about thousands of concealed weapons holders were exposed in a data breach at Florida the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. The breach, which the agency believes happened about two weeks ago, occurred in an online payments system, spokesperson …

    Commissioner of Agriculture Adam Putnam on Monday that nearly 500 people may have had their Social Security numbers obtained in a data breach in his office.
[Times file photo]

  4. Trigaux: Can Duke Energy Florida's new chief grow a business when customers use less power?

    Energy

    Let's hope Harry Sideris has a bit of Harry Houdini in him.

    Duke Energy Florida president Harry Sideris laid out his prioriities for the power company ranging from improved customer service to the use of more large-scale solar farms to provide electricity. And he acknowledged a critical challenge: People are using less electricity these days. [SCOTT KEELER   |   Times]
  5. Citigroup agrees to pay nearly $100 million fine for Mexican subsidiary

    Banking

    NEW YORK — Citigroup has agreed to pay nearly $100 million to federal authorities to settle claims that a lack of internal controls and negligence in the bank's Mexican subsidiary may have allowed customers to commit money laundering.

    Citigroup has agreed to pay nearly $100 million to federal authorities to settle claims that a lack of internal controls and negligence in the bank's Mexican subsidiary may have allowed customers to commit money laundering. 
[Associated Press file photo]