This year’s political season gives the term office politics a whole new meaning. Instead of positioning yourself for a promotion, you may find yourself positioning yourself far away from that colleague who, all too often, shares his political views of the candidates running for office.
The party line may be to ban political chatter at work. But in a presidential election year featuring arguably the most polarizing candidates in recent memory, that’s not realistic (also illegal — there’s that little First Amendment thing).
And besides, don’t you want to be around people who care what’s happening in your community, your country and your world? Working alongside folks who are checked out and hunkered down isn’t good for you or your company.
“What’s going on in Washington or down the street at town council can affect a company’s ability to compete and be successful,” says Marty McGuinness, vice president of government affairs at Unum. “It’s great for employees to be educated and involved outside the office so they can help shape the environment.”
So, how can you get from primaries to inauguration day with your business relationships intact?
- Step away from the fire. If the conversation is getting too heated, pour some water on it. Smile and say “We’ll just have to agree to disagree on that one, I guess.” Or bail out with “Hey, I’ve got a meeting in 5 minutes. Enjoyed the chat!”
- See the other side. Steven Covey and St. Francis couldn’t both be wrong when they advised understanding before trying to be understood. Ask questions. Try “How do you think that would work?” instead of “That’s a crazy idea!”
- Keep it personal. As in in-person. Talk, don’t email. It’s too easy for digital comments to be misconstrued and take on a life of their own.
- Skip the conversation. You don’t have to talk about the election any more than you have to talk about last night’s baseball scores. If it’s not your cup of tea (party), don’t join in.
- Use your company manners. Most workplaces have written or commonly understood values and codes of conduct. Respect for others and cultivating an inclusive environment are often on the list. Harassment is not.
- Watch your biases. If you’re responsible for assigning work to others, be sure you’re not favoring those who agree with you or bypassing those who don’t.
- Take care of customers. This is one place you should probably avoid political discussions. If the customer brings it up, strive for a neutral response — “Yes, it’s certainly going to be an interesting fall.”
Or you could take a tip from our friends at Esurance and just move to Canada.