How to avoid talking politics at work

There you are, brewing your coffee in the pantry, oblivious to Dina’s cat-like lurch right behind you when you hear her asking, “Did you watch the Presidential Debate last night?” What are you supposed to say? You know Dina’s itching for a fight, since – she knows it and you know it – the two of you have polar opposite political views. You can’t even accept Dina’s constructive feedback on a sales presentation on a normal work day. How are you supposed to have a civilized debate on emotionally charged political talk in the office?

As the saying goes, “don’t talk religion or politics in the office.” It’s quite easy to avoid politics at work when you’re months away from the next election. But as you move closer, hot-button political discussions at work take place far more than usual. Can you ban all political discussion at work?

Unfortunately, it’s not quite possible to completely avoid politics at work. Besides, it may surprise you to learn that the United States’ First Amendment right to free speech is protected in public companies and government agencies, but not in most private companies. Political discussion and affiliation is not federally protected, although some states do guarantee such protection to employees.

A 2016 survey of HR executives showed that only 3 percent of their companies had official or unofficial guidelines about discussing politics at work. Most of the time, these rules fall under three categories: dress codes, nonsolicitation policies, and anti-harassment policies.

Talking Politics At Work
Loose lips sink ships.

If you wear a T-shirt, button or baseball hat that supports a political campaign or issue, you might violate your workplace’s dress code. If you distribute flyers or send emails supporting a specific political issue that could be considered soliciting. If you touch upon a hot-button issue that leads to a heat conversation, a co-worker might feel like he or she is being singled out and harassed for his religious views. This might even lead to a disgruntled employee claiming workplace discrimination.

Here are a few tips on how to avoid politics in the office:

Learn to walk away

If you feel like a political discussion at work is getting heated or confrontation, it’s time to say, “I think we’re going to have to agree to disagree,” and walk away. You may even choose to say something like, “I think this conversation is getting too heated for work – let’s change the topic.”

Avoid hot-button issues

It’s best to avoid discussing political issues such as same-sex marriage and abortion rights in the workplace. There are particular political issues that come with no middle ground as they’re often tied to religious or moral beliefs. Steer clear of such issues that have no place in the office.

Seek facts, not fiction

A simple misunderstanding can have a lasting impact on your workplace relationships. You only need to look as far as the recent surge in fake news on social media to see how worse it can get. Before you choose to get into a heated debate ask yourself, ‘how do I know this?’ If the only source of information is a tidbit your friends or worker told you or an assumption, think twice about whether it’s credible or not. If you’re not sure, leave it until you have further clarification.

A rational workplace where everyone gets along in spite of their differences is what we should strive to create. Follow these measures to avoid politics at work and the ensuing office drama.

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Priyansha Mistry
Currently editor at The HR Digest Magazine. She helps HR professionals identify issues with their talent management and employment law. | Priyansha tweets at @PriyanshaMistry

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