Discussing Politics at Work
This time of year, you can't escape politics. But before you start a civil war in the office over political opinions, check out Modern Manners Guy’s 3 tips for handling political talk on the job.
This time of year, you can't go 5 minutes without being caught up in the hoopla of politics. When you turn on the TV, it seems that every other commercial is about a political candidate vying for your vote. When you click over to Facebook, chances are the discussion on your wall reads like a drunken ramble of diverging views about various candidates.
Even just driving to work, th ere are signs upon signs posted everywhere about who is the right person for the job. And then, once you get to your workplace, the debates continue to heat up. Everyone has an opinion, and wouldn't you know it, everyone is correct! Or so they say… er, scream!
I'm no political genius, but I know what I believe in, and that's about where my desire to discuss politics ends. I know that others will disagree with me, but that's the beauty of living in America; we have the freedom to believe whatever we want and speak our minds. (Just ask Legal Lad!) However, sometimes in the workplace, this liberty gets way, way, waaaaay out of hand.
So with that, before you use your office desk as your own personal soap box, check out my top 3 Quick and Dirty Tips for discussing politics in the office:
Tip #1: No One Trusts a Loudmouth
Have you ever had a discussion with someone when all of a sudden they turn into the Incredible Hulk and start to shout at you? Or from the get-go, they feel their argument could only be made clear by ranting and raving like a madman? And when it comes to politics, people seem to get heated particularly quickly, which always turns into a match-up of who can be the loudest. I just don't get this tactic.
For example, earlier this year, my two coworkers were talking about the upcoming election. What started out as a sidebar conversation at a meeting, quickly escalated into one guy doing everything but hitting another coworker over the head with a steel chair. He got so worked up that all he could do was rant at the top of his lungs, throwing expletives around like he was at a football stadium. In front of our eyes, this normal, mild-mannered employee turned into a blabbering, nonsense-spewing loudmouth because he let his emotions get the best of him.
Sure, you may be passionate about something (and not just politics) and that passion can come out in volumes. But people tend to forget how foolish they look when they turn a spirited debate into a shouting match. There is a lot to be said about someone who can keep calm in any situation, and honestly, I find the ability to remain cool and collected to be highly underrated.
See also: How to Successfully Argue a Bill
The minute you lose control, you lose all credibility. When this coworker started yelling like a trader on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange, no one in the office wanted to talk with him about politics, or anything else. It's highly unmannerly to argue with your coworkers in general, but getting into a shouting match in front of a roomful of colleagues is downright embarrassing!
Tip #2: Schedule Debate Times
My 4-year-old daughter is the best; she's sweet, smart, funny, and knows all the words to "Call Me Maybe"… okay, so there is her one fault. When she asks for a snack right before bed and we say “No,” she is upset, yet tells us, "I know, bedtime is not snack time." And that's that. No more discussion. With a toddler, there are set times for certain things like snacks, TV watching, games, etc. And unfortunately, sometimes grown-ups also need to be reminded that there’s a time and place for everything. Like the guy who wears his motorcycle chaps on Casual Friday, he needs to be told “now is not the best time.”
The office kitchen tends to be the hot spot for political discussion. Somebody says, "Can you believe what So-And-So said last night?" And before the popcorn is done popping, two coworkers have already gone 3 rounds of "I'm right, you’re an idiot!" Needless to say, just as there are proper times for my daughter to have snacks or play outside, there are absolutely proper times to discuss your political viewpoints. And I'm a firm believer that the office is NOT the place for political arguments, or religious ones for that matter.
If coworkers feel that they have to talk politics, then they need to only do it at designated times. When is that? Well, that's for the big boss to figure out. I can only tell you when it's not a good time: in a meeting, on a conference call with clients, at a holiday party, at a group outing, at a baby shower.
As well, political discussion should not be forced upon others who are not prepared – or share the desire – to discuss the topic at all. When I go to the fridge to grab my lunch, I don't want to feel like I’ll have to show my voter registration card or be armed with arguments to back up my political beliefs. It’s stressful and unnecessary.
Tip #3: Eliminate the Topic Altogether
The best way to avoid having political uproar in the office is to simply not allow the conversations to start in the first place. At my friend's office, his boss was so superstitious about his favorite sports team winning the Super Bowl, that every time someone even brought it up, they had to put $1 into a fishbowl as punishment. The money collected would go towards a pizza party during the game. This was not a ruse to get the employees to pay for pizza – it was a clever way to avoid a topic the boss had declared off limits during work hours. It’s a brilliant idea!
Not only did it raise money for what ended up being a massive pizza party (apparently there were many rule-breakers), but it also served to keep the peace among employees. Politics is not like the elephant in the room (no pun intended) – it's not something that has to be discussed. It has nothing to do with your job (unless you work at a campaign office) and therefore, can be avoided during work hours. As well, it always gets people worked up and can become a distraction.
So that’s why, I would simply make it off limits. And if you do talk about politics (or anything else that is declared taboo) when you are not supposed to, then you should pay a tax (just a little government humor there for you). Use that pizza fishbowl idea if you need to. I mean, who doesn't like pizza? But if someone can't follow the rules of not talking politics at work, well, that's when it’s time for the boss to have a closed door discussion on proper office etiquette. Call me if that’s the case. I happen to enjoy that debate.
As always, if you have another manners question, I look forward to hearing from you at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow me on Twitter @MannersQDT, and of course, check back next week for more Modern Manners Guy tips for a more polite life.