The Politics of Political Banter

The Politics of Political Banter

Particularly since the presidential election that took place nearly two years ago, political views and opinions have become increasingly strong. With mid-term elections looming, differences of opinions on candidates and measures is bound to spill over into the workplace, creating distractions and potentially hurt feelings. As managers and HR professionals, how do you manage political banter at work, ideally before productivity is affected and discussions need to be halted?

It is unreasonable to assume that there will be no chatter of politics at work, since the majority of our time is spent at work during the work week, and typically with the same people with whom we’ve become comfortable working and conversing with for years. And since politics can also play a significant role in both personal and professional parts of life, it can become natural “water cooler” conversation for some employees. However, 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.

It’s best to keep political conversations in the workplace to a minimum. If, however, despite your best efforts, a discussion becomes heated and gets out of hand, try to help employees find a common ground by validating each employee’s right to their opinion, acknowledging their differences, then reminding them to leave it at that. Do not “side” with either employee. Simply encourage that it’s okay for them to “agree to disagree,” and that it’s best to not discuss politics anymore.

Ultimately, the workplace is a place for work. Politically-charged conversations, while not illegal in the workplace, are best left for after-hours discussion. More times than not, they can lead to disagreements which can offend others, possibly ruin relationships, and lower workplace morale and productivity. It’s important to exercise one’s freedom of opinion, but best to treat political discussions with respect, or, whenever possible, to avoid these discussions altogether.

We Control the Norm

I rarely, if ever, make comments on our political environment. However, in light of our recent election, I felt that something needed to be said about the divide felt by many in our country. A large portion of individuals who are a fundamental part of our society feel that the tactics used in the recent presidential race encouraged a segment of our society to discriminate and harass others. There is a fundamental feeling that the recently acquired norm of respect and understanding for those that have been historically marginalized is just a facade and it is now open season on those that look, act, or believe differently than what some consider the norm.

I choose to believe that the majority of those who voted for our now president-elect did not vote that way because they thought he was going to bring back hatred into our country (sadly, some did, but those people do not represent the America that I love). Despite the poorly chosen words and sentiments used in the recent presidential race, we don’t have to give him or others the power to change the norm of our society. We the people, as a whole, set the tone of our society.

Ensuring a norm of respect starts with you. Take this time to reflect on how you interact with those around you. Are you are treating and interacting with those around you with respect and understanding? Despite what they believe (politically or otherwise), or even how they behave towards you, you can still treat individuals with respect and dignity.

Practice being impeccable with your words: they have meaning. Banish hate and demeaning language from your vocabulary. I believe that everyone, including myself, needs to be regularly reminded to choose our words and thoughts carefully.

In the workplace and beyond, leaders need to clearly model through their behavior and communication that a lack of civility will not be tolerated. In addition to the well-established legal protections, all individuals deserve to work in a place where they are not bullied or ostracized because of what they believe, who they are, or how they look. As leaders, we can set the tone and the norm for every organization by the way we act and respond. Here is a not-so-subtle hint: we all can be leaders regardless of our position.

I encourage you to help heal the divide in this country one person at a time. Take the time to understand someone else’s viewpoint, even if you don’t agree with it. At the end of the day, the norms of our society belong to us, not to politicians or celebrities. You can change the world’s view-point, one person at the time, starting with yourself.

Political Banter in the Workplace

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

Nuts-and-Bolts: Politics of Politics in the Workplace

Election Day is upon us, and so are the political discussions. Along with religion, sex, and money, politics is one of the most controversial topics that exists in our culture. While few employers actually prohibit political discussion in the workplace, inappropriate or heated exchanges that get out of hand can be disciplined, even to the point of termination. In light of November 4th, it’s important to understand the etiquette of political discussions in the workplace. (more…)