Fred walks into work in the morning all hyped up over last night’s political debate. Exasperated, he doesn’t understand how anyone could ever support the other candidate when it’s obvious they are a potential criminal, liar, inexperienced and offensive to all. Despite his feelings, he vows to avoid any political talk in the workplace recognizing the time waste and conflict it can bring.

As Fred passes the break room, Sam pops his head out and asks Fred what he thinks of the debate last night. Fred mumbles a non-committal reply and attempts to move on. However, Sam takes his non-committal reply as a sign that Fred is on the fence about the candidates and proceeds starts into a barrage about how horrible one of the candidates is. Unfortunately, this is the candidate that Fred believes is the best choice for President

If you were Fred, how would you handle this?

This political season has been especially controversial and in many ways, has divided traditionally strong groups. Unfortunately, this political environment and difference of opinions has spilled over into the workplace, creating distractions and hurt feelings. These distractions are bound to effect productivity.

As managers and Human Resource professionals, how do you manage political talk in the workplace? Let’s step in as Fred and Sam’s manager and you are walking by the conversation between Fred and Sam. Your options at this point is to move on, join in the conversation, or break up their conversation. Of course, you know the answer, gently break up the conversation and send them back to work.

While a healthy debate about politics is necessary to work through our own beliefs and come up with new concepts for the betterment of all, in the workplace they can lead to a major distraction from work. This distraction can be anything from employees no longer talking to each other to taking time away from actual production.

Whether you are an executive, manager, HR professional, or an employee; you have the ability to be a leader in your workplace. Sometimes that means you either avoid political conversations or defer the conversation to a better time and place (e.g. lunch). This can be difficult when you feel that your strongly held political beliefs are under attack. A true leader should try to encourage others in a positive and productive manner, while remaining genuine. This doesn’t mean you need to dismiss or lie about your beliefs, but rather evading what you know can be unproductive conversation for the workplace.

Individuals in authority (e.g. executives, managers, HR) need to demonstrate leadership by not participating in extreme political talk, ensuring that any political talk in the workplace is not damaging relationships, and that workplace productivity continues.

How have do you handle yourself or your employees when it comes to political talk? Need help? We are here to assist you in managing conflict, even the political kind.

Related blog post from November 2014: Politics of Politics in the Workplace