Politics in the Office
Not “office politics,” I’m talking about the dangers of discussing politics in the office.
The easy way out is to ban the Big 3 from office conversations:
If you’re typical, you’re going to spend 25% of your adult life or more at work. That’s a lot of time! Your life outside of work includes family time, daily chores, a little relaxation and some sleep! Most people are going to develop close and casual friendships and even serious relationships at work.
What do friends talk about? Among other things: sex, religion and politics.
The current Presidential race is the most contentious, exciting and volatile in memory and we’re not even through the primary process yet. It seems everyone has some opinion about which candidate is going to save the free world and which will destroy it.
Of course, just as with lawyers: Your guy is a crook and mine can do no wrong!
Political debates in the office can destroy friendships, ruin reputations, introduce unwanted stress and cost your organization thousands of dollars in lost and wasted time. So how do you keep office discussions about politics from escalating to open warfare?
One word answer: RESPECT.
I use a definition of Respect given to me by a first grader! Doing a talk on Respect and Responsibility for a group of elementary school students near my home I started by asking my standard opening question: “Does anyone know what the word Respect means?” A first grade student stood up, bowed and said, “Sensei, Respect means taking care of one another.”
Wow! I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve been moved to tears as an adult and this little guy had me on the edge of a deluge! His simple definition shot a point right through my heart and soul. From that day forward I took his definition as mine. This is the definition I use in all my presentations.
Here are some simple guidelines to preserve the Rule of Respect when talking about politics, and other contentious topics in the workplace.
1. Give the benefit of the doubt. I know I’m always right and you’re wrong, however; I’m going to assume that you have a considered and rational reason for your opinions. If I’m going to change your mind, it will be through respectful dialogue, not personal attacks. Let’s talk about the issues. At the very least I’ll come to appreciate your point of view whether we agree or not.
2. Avoid making it personal! Some of us commoners are always puzzled when we see mortal political enemies joining hands for ceremonial events and to celebrate joint causes. Well, that’s the way political business is done. You see 30 second sound-bites on TV; they live in a world of constant debate and compromise. Each partisan will naturally shout the party slogans in public, and they’re likely having steak and beer after the session. Witness the seemingly bizarre hook-up of James Carvel and Mary Matalin!
The fact is that partisan politics and friendships are not mutually exclusive. The key is respectful dialogue. Argue your issue, do not resort to name calling. The other guy is not stupid or ignorant because his view of the world is different than yours; he simply needs more gentle persuasion!
3. Let the other person talk too. Even when I know my point of view is the correct one; it’s important to let you express your opinion as well. Even if I’m not listening!
4. If you can’t play nice, then don’t play at all! If you really can’t have a respectful discussion, then it is best to leave it alone. After all, you’re at work for a purpose. If you feel so strongly about an issue that your work is affected, quit your job and run for office!
Taking care of the other guy doesn’t mean you always agree. It means you allow the other person to express his opinion in consideration of listening to yours. A quarter of your life or more is spent at work. Wouldn’t it be a shame to spend a quarter of your life avoiding discussions? Understanding doesn’t come from silence; it comes from open and respectful dialogue.
NOTE: It was pointed out to me that I often discuss football in the office; the suggestion was that there is something more than sex, religion and politics to talk about at the office.
I respectfully disagree. Those who know me can assure you that to me, football is not a sport, but is truly a religion!