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Politics at Work

Posted on May 3, 2017
Image of Republican Elephant and Democratic Donkey

I’ve been thinking about writing this post for quite some time. I grew up in a family of table thumpers – hands hit the table to get a point across during hearty political debates. Every so often someone had to get up, leave the table, and go cool off. The people around that table held very different views and had no problem expressing their opinions, but they were family and close-knit friends.

What happens when a political debate unfolds in the office? If the colleagues are of similar mind, then little of any consequence, but what if, especially in this political climate, the colleagues hold different beliefs, voted for different candidates, support different causes?

For those of you with strong opinions on one side or the other, you may not like my response.

First, don’t discuss your political views with co-workers until you know where they stand, how their views align or don’t align with yours. When a co-worker’s views differ from yours, then you have to separate the person from the politics. You have to work on a daily basis with this person, and whom s/he voted for should be irrelevant. So, how do you separate the two?

  • Find common ground for any non-work discussions, pre-meeting chit chat, or water cooler talk
  • If the co-worker has his/her office filled with candidate stickers, slogans, etc., suggest you meet in your office or a neutral space such as a conference room
  • If the co-worker brings up a political topic, politely change the subject by focusing on more common-ground topics
  • If, however, the co-worker tries to bait you, then be prepared with a response, such as “I think we’re in disagreement on this topic, how about we focus on this project”

It is important that you maintain your cool and walk away from a co-worker who seems primed for a political fight. The last thing you want is for your subordinates or your superiors to see you engaged in a political verbal brawl. Even those who may side with you, will view the altercation as less than professional. Take the high road and walk away, let the co-worker yell or try and bait an empty space. Trust me, you will be better off.

To those of you who are politically amped up and want to challenge your co-workers to a politically-charged debate. Don’t. Avoid this behavior at all costs. You don’t want to become known as the antagonistic co-worker – it could impact your performance reviews, potential for advancement, etc.

There is an old phrase that has been floating around for over 150 years, a mainstay of the etiquette circles – “Never discuss religion or politics in general company” and another version of that goes like this, “Never discuss religion or politics with those who hold opinions opposite to yours.” While I would argue it is good to challenge our beliefs and convictions – just not in the office.


Anne Converse Willkomm
Director of Graduate Studies
Goodwin College
Drexel University

Source: Barry Popik

Posted in interpersonal-communications