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Talking politics at work – (or not)

How do you deal with the elephant – or donkey – in the office?

By Michael UramPublished: October 01, 2012

Democrat? Republican? Tea Party? Independent? Libertarian? Green? Undecided?
Regardless of your political affiliation, the heightened media coverage during the election season and the resulting debates can lead to political conversations in the workplace. There is no doubt that the political chatter, and the emotions triggered by it, will continue to heat up as Election Day nears.
Political beliefs can highlight core differences or similarities in values among coworkers, but sometimes the cost of discussing political viewpoints can unintentionally rock the workplace. It may be no surprise that 77 percent of Americans avoid discussing politics, and one in 10 stays away from political banter at all costs.*
So, how do people deal with the political elephant (or donkey) in the break room?
In most work environments, political conversations are best left out of the water-cooler chats, text messages or Facebook posts that coworkers can view. However, in some environments talking politics is part of the company culture.

WEB EXCLUSIVE: Orange County faces a number of key proposals, measures and local elections next month. Learn about them here.

During an election year, it is easy to let politics become a topic at staff meetings. If you are in a leadership position, set a few ground rules early in the election season. Employees should know when and where the company allows political discussions. Additionally, if your company takes a stance on a political issue, it’s important to make sure your employees are aware and understand why the decision was made.
A number of people have friendly relationships with coworkers, so politics does come up. I recommend that people be selective in who you talk with and what subjects you talk about. Instead of becoming angry when the conversation turns to an upcoming election, be rational and listen to opposing views, or make an excuse to change the topic or end the conversation. When a colleague has an opposing view, don’t to talk down or judge his position on an issue. A great line to say to redirect the colleague is, “I’d rather not discuss politics right now, since I have so much work today.”


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