The Politics of Talking Politics in the Office
Despite the political climate in which we’re currently enmeshed, talking politics in the office is still inexplicably taboo. You’d think that something so incredibly public – played out on TV screens and during family dinners across the country – would by now be acceptable office fodder. And yet, to announce your preferred party or to ally with a certain position is considered distasteful at best, offensive at worst.
There is a reason for this – not everyone in an office will share the same beliefs, and mutual respect is at the foundation of any good workplace. Civility, politeness, and common courtesy cannot be overemphasized in a well-functioning office. But who does it benefit, to categorically ignore some of the most influential discussions of our time? Is this ‘silencing’ not more detrimental than considering the topics openly and respectfully?
What we’re really asking is: should the office be a refuge from political drama, or a productive space for its discussion?
To discuss or not to discuss?
Maybe I’m biased, but at Proven Recruiting we value diversity because we think that diversity makes us better. If, when considering the most crucial topics, we silence the diversity we fought so hard to promote – what was the point in the first place?
Bringing together people with a range of backgrounds, experiences, and political leanings is beneficial to any company. It would be a tragedy if everyone thought the same things and adopted the same beliefs. We would consider that a failure, and so should you.
The ability to discuss difficult topics – on which there exists a variety of opinions – will ultimately push your business to grow. The better your team is at addressing touchy, difficult issues, the better they’ll be prepared next time there’s a dispute over company policy or performance reviews (Harvard Business Review).
Who is most vulnerable in these discussions?
According to data collected by the American Psychological Association following the 2016 presidential election, “men were more likely than women, and younger workers were more likely than older generations, to have experienced negative consequences of political discussions at work.”
The numbers are remarkable: men were twice as likely to report that political discussions were negatively impacting their productivity levels. Even more revealing, 18% of male respondents (4x that of female respondents) reported arguing with a coworker about politics.
With this information in mind, your company will want to take active steps to ensure that both men and younger workers are not feeling threatened or marginalized by these too-often heated discussions.
Making a short announcement before the election cycle, which explains the crucial need for mutual respect and civil discourse, may help to assuage some of the more fiery sentiments.
How to create an open and productive dialogue.
Political discussions should never be the focus of a work day, and they should certainly not pit the office against itself. But when they naturally arise, try asking questions and learning a new perspective – instead of instantly getting defensive or shutting down the conversation entirely.
Thinking back to the 2016 election, I remember our office abuzz with political commentary. It was in this divisive climate that I received a note from a newer employee’s mother, bringing to my attention that her son felt disrespected and borderline intimated because of his support for Trump. I addressed these concerns with the whole company, emphasizing the need for tolerance and respect for differing political views. The tone of the remarks were much softer and more courteous thereafter.
The moral is this; don’t shame someone for supporting Trump, or voting a different way on a divisive issue, or choosing to not vote entirely. Listen, ask questions, and try to leave with a better understanding of your own views, and a better understanding of how to handle difficult conversations with workers.
Politics in the office is not for everyone, and that’s just fine.
Some workplaces are better suited to these types of discussions than others. As recruiters, we’re comfortable being somewhat – courteously – combative. Everyone here knows that they are welcome to share their opinions, regardless of the topic.
Other offices may be less welcoming to such digressions. If you’re an employee at this type of company, use your best judgment, evaluate your co-workers behavior, and don’t make a stand purely for the sake of it.
There are times and places to discuss politics, and if your work isn’t that place – maybe it’s time to find a new workplace. Send us your resume at firstname.lastname@example.org to discuss your options.