Why Coworkers and Politics Don’t Mix

When is political chatter appropriate in the office? As Trent explains in a recent Reader Mailbag column, never. This is true even if you’re reasonably sure that everyone on your team has similar views. It’s just plain unprofessional.

Maybe you’re unconvinced, however. In that case, it’s useful to consider exactly why talking about politics at work is a bad idea:

It stresses people out.

An APA survey prior to the election found that 28% of younger workers reported being stressed out by workplace political discussions. One in five of all respondents said they’d avoided a coworker because of their political beliefs. Obviously, this is not a recipe for a calm, collaborative work environment.

Working with people means that you’re going to experience conflict at some point. By cutting politics out of the picture, you can focus on the conflict that’s truly necessary – and that produces results for the company.

You can’t be sure what people really believe.

Let’s say you work in the reddest red state, at a company where most employees appear to have consistently conservative political views. Talking about politics should be OK in such a homogeneous environment, right?

Not so fast. Even if you’re all registered with the same party, you probably don’t agree on every single issue in the political landscape today. For one thing, there are too many issues; for another, there’s no such thing as a large group of human beings that feels exactly the same way about multiple topics.

Finally, you can’t really be sure that your colleagues all agree. There may be some quiet folks in the group who prefer to keep their opinions to themselves. That’s a professional, respectful attitude to take. Don’t punish them for it by making them uncomfortable in the lunchroom.

Teamwork depends on feeling like a team.

To work together effectively, you have to feel like you’re on the same side. Realistically, you understand that you’re not going to hold the same views on politics as all of your colleagues. But there’s a difference between knowing your private views may differ, and hearing that your coworker thinks you’re wrong about things that are important to you. It’s hard not to feel separate from the team when you’re constantly being reminded of your divisions instead of your common ground.

It makes you look less professional.

Etiquette exists for two reasons: to ease social interactions by making everyone comfortable, and to demonstrate who knows how to behave.

Workplace etiquette has long held that people should not talk about politics at work. If you violate that taboo, you’re not only making your colleagues wish they’d decided to work from home today. You’re also sending a signal to your team – and your boss – that you don’t understand how things are done. That doesn’t make you look like someone who’s in control of their career.

Loose cannons don’t get ahead. Think of it this way: If you were in charge of promotions, would you choose someone who makes their coworkers nervous?

You could flip out.

Just talking about politics at work is unprofessional enough, but if you persist, you run into another potential pitfall for your career: You could get angry enough to behave badly, and that’s sometimes
hard to come back from.

Politics, like religion, is personal. Put yourself in the position of discussing topics that are deeply important to you, and you risk flying off the handle. That won’t help your argument or your career.

Regardless of our views, we tend to hold them pretty strongly. It’s easy to go from a civilized conversation about differing views to an all-out screaming match, even if you’re normally even-keeled. Your best bet is not to take the risk.

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