Politics at the Office is Recipe for Disaster

By admin ~ January 11th, 2010 @ 10:05 am

The good news is that by mid November, who is or isn’t the best candidate will be a moot point. But in the meantime, there are political-discussion booby traps wherever you go. And these situations — in or out of the office — with co-workers can be particularly hazardous.

Most of us learned a long time ago that money, sex, religion and politics are topics best left to discussions away from the office. Few people will be swayed or “enlightened” by water-cooler debates, but many will feel uncomfortable, threatened or harassed when co-workers or supervisors start to pontificate about their favorite candidate, issue or party.

Below are eight reasons why talking politics at work can be a waste of time at best and a potential disaster at worst:

1. Disagreement can be interpreted as disapproval or poor judgment.

If your opinion about, say, abortion or the death penalty differs from your supervisor’s, it may be hard for her to not question your judgment on other subjects, as well. Even if others accept your political position, just knowing that you disagree with theirs might make them question your ability to be a team player.

2. Even political discussions with people who agree can be hazardous.

The person you are talking to may totally agree with your opinions. Unfortunately, there is the possibility that your conversations will be overheard, misunderstood and/or repeated by someone else. And this kind of office “scuttlebutt” can have disastrous effects on even the most promising career.

3. Silence is not necessarily golden.

Even if you decide to only listen to the discussion, your silence can be interpreted as a sign of agreement. It’s OK to “suddenly” remember a call or e-mail that you need to return.

4. Team spirit can be shattered by political extremism.

Every office needs to maintain certain levels of respect and camaraderie to meet management’s goals. Political debates tend to dilute the team spirit.

5. Few political discussions really include a discussion.

What most people who want to “discuss” politics really want is to tell others about their own views.

6. Political discussions often end badly.

People who have strong feelings about politically sensitive topics or candidates can inflict unintentional damage on those who disagree, as well as on their own effectiveness within the office. The result is that hard feelings persist long after the conversation has ended.

7. Give the First Amendment a break.

Some workers insist that they are entitled to talk about politics at the office because free speech is a constitutional right. But they need to remember that such discussions can — and almost always do — have a negative effect on the workplace, i.e., they need to reexamine “right” as a noun vs. “right” as an adjective, because discussing politics at work is rarely the right thing to do.

8. You have better things to do with your time.

Unless you are a paid political consultant, it’s a fair bet that you are not being paid to share and debate your position on candidates or issues. The office is not the place to discuss politics for a variety of reasons, but the most important one is that you’re being paid to work — not campaign.

The bottom line is that your boss and colleagues will be happier if you remember that the office functions best when it’s a politics-free zone.

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