How Best To Address The Discussion of Politics In The Office

It is well known that politics and religion are two things that should not be mentioned within the office context. This is because both are potentially contentious topics that could lead to conflicts or disagreements. Which is not conducive to productivity or successful collaborative working. For the sake of this article, it is important to note that managing politics in the office and the discussion of politics in the office are two different concepts. In this context, we are talking exclusively about having politically motivated conversations within the office.

When posed with the question of whether employees should discuss politics in the workplace, most managers will simply respond with a ‘no’. However, it is more complex than this. Sometimes these political discussions can be hard to avoid.

Generally, the HR department will approach the situation in two ways. They will either censor political speech by monitoring employees and informing them on the company’s guidelines regarding approaching political topics. Or they will not set any restrictions regarding topics which cannot be discussed at work. If any issues then arise, they will approach it on a case by case basis.

This article will investigate how to best approach political discussions in the office in ways that will promote collaborative informative interchanges of views and ideas.

Discussing Politics in the Office can be Unavoidable

Due to the recent nomination of Joe Biden as US’ 46th president, discussing politics within the workspace may be hard to avoid. The political polarization within the US is stark. Meaning within one office space many opposing political beliefs and values will coexist. This makes it difficult when politics comes up at lunchtime, or on that boozy after-work drink night every Thursday.

Furthermore, according to a survey conducted during the 2016 presidential campaign, 79% of respondents ranked co-workers the people they would least likely talk about politics with. Colleagues were even ranked lower than neighbors or complete strangers. Due to this, self censorship within the US is on the rise. According to the Cato Institute survey, nearly โ…“ of American employees worry that there is the potential they may lose their job or not be considered for a career advancement due to their political standing.

However, at the same time, workplace culture expert Joel Patterson states the importance of leaders developing a strong workforce culture in which they know how best to manage political discussions and beliefs.

This further complicates the issue as it is hard to know where to draw the line. The situation has got so contentious that people have become afraid to say the wrong thing at work and get reprimanded. The fear to step out of line through an innocuous remark is not favorable to obtaining a cohesive work environment.

Politics in the Office- Legal Standpoint

Additionally, another factor that must be considered is that managers legally cannot prohibit employees from discussing politics in the workplace. As the First Amendment declares employees’ right to political speech. However, political topics fall under the category of employee behavior. Which private enterprises have the right to seek to control and manage. Furthermore, a 2016 survey taken by HR executives discloses how only 3% of companies had strict guidelines regarding the discussion of politics at work. Due to these reasons, talking about politics in the office is a grey area in which managers cannot have control over or censor.

Culture of Understanding

Rather than ban or reprimand the discussion of politics in the workplace, companies should instead invoke a culture of understanding and acceptance. This means that when those conversations invariably occur, they are less likely to manifest into conflicts.

Constructive, informative discussions should be encouraged. Having discussions with people with opposing viewpoints can develop mutual trust and acceptance between coworkers. Furthermore, by promoting the office as a space of open dialogue and trust, employees are more likely to feel safe to voice their beliefs and therefore will be more willing to accept those of others.

Developing the skill of talking about politics with your colleagues in a productive and respectful way will help when having to discuss other difficult topics. This could include disagreements regarding business plans or disputes over how to execute a new project. By practicing how to talk about potentially contentious topics in an objective measured way, it will develop employees’ diplomatic skills; which are vital within any office context.

When these difficult political topics do invariably arise, along with promoting a culture of understanding, there are ways to constructively discuss political issues without it descending into a conflict.

Top Tips to Constructively Discuss Politics in the Office

As previously mentioned, discussing politics within the workplace cannot be outright banned. Therefore, it is important to develop a set of guidelines to mediate potentially contentious topics. Below we will list some guidelines that employees and employers may find useful when addressing political discussions in the office.

Know the Rules

Legally, many offices have guidelines in place which prohibit employees from wearing politically charged clothing or bringing political paraphernalia into the office. The same rule applies for promoting political viewpoints at work. Through sending out emails or promoting your political cause whilst working.

Keep it Friendly

In many offices, a political discussion with your colleague is the norm. Especially during such important times such as these, when so much is riding on the 2020 election results. Therefore, it is important that when these topics invariably do come up, that both parties (if you pardon the pun) remain calm, composed and objective. It is key to remember that no one’s mind is going to be changed through a half an hour conversation in the work canteen.

By keeping the discussion as a conversation, rather than becoming a debate, it avoids any potential conflicts from developing. Additionally, by asking non-confrontational questions, which show you are simply asking to learn more rather than challenge your employee on their beliefs. It, therefore, makes the conversation educational, rather than political. You may even end up learning something new about an issue, or about your fellow co-worker.

Avoid Contentious Issues

Whilst it is important to be able to converse with your co-workers regarding these issues, it is vital to know where to draw the line. Avoid topics that are related to moral or religious beliefs. These subjects can be sensitive for some and could therefore potentially lead to a difficult conversation. It is better to discuss less controversial topics where both involved can remain objective. This will prevent any conflicts from arising and therefore any future awkwardness in the office.

If you see that your fellow employee is actively seeking out the discussion of a contentious issue, pivot the conversation away from that topic to something work-related. Change the conversation to something relevant to them, such as a work issue. This way they are more likely to go with the change of topic and revert away from a potential conflict.

Know when to Walk Away

If you feel like the conversation is heading in the wrong direction, and could potentially become charged and tense, you must walk away before it reaches this stage. It is easier to make an excuse and simply walk away than to stay in the conversation and facilitate it unravelling into a dispute or argument.

Politics in the Office

The discussion of politics in the office is sometimes unavoidable. As managers cannot censor and monitor everything their employees are saying. However, it does not always have to manifest into a conflict. By adopting the right approaches detailed in this article, colleagues can have educational informative discussions regarding politics.

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