Conventional wisdom suggests talking about politics at work is a big-time no. Recently, however, politics are impossible to avoid. 73% of employees report having discussed politics with their colleagues since the election. We’re all for bringing your personality to work: and that includes your political beliefs and opinions. How can you speak up for what you believe in without causing drama at the office? Should you participate in political water cooler conversations with your coworkers?
Surprisingly, talking about politics at work can actually be a boon for your career – if you do it right. Because you spend the majority of your time with your colleagues, they become your default sounding board for processing your thoughts and feelings about today’s political climate. And, as one expert suggests, “learning how to talk about politics in a productive manner can help you ‘manage other difficult conversations at work,’ including peer performance reviews or disagreements over strategy and policy.”
Of course, the caveat is that there’s a right and wrong way to get involved in political conversations. Here’s how to talk about politics at work and keep a positive reputation among your colleagues.
Do: consider social cues.
Again: you spend the majority of your waking hours with your coworkers. Unless you’ve just started a new job, you know your colleagues well. Before leaping into a political discussion, think about where that person’s point of view is coming from. “Weigh the consequences of speaking up versus shutting up. ‘If you wade into an issue that’s highly [divisive], you risk souring a relationship.’ At the same time, if coffee break chat veers into political territory that you’re passionate about — equal rights, say, or climate change — ‘it may be worth it to you’ to speak your piece.”
Do: know your facts.
Especially in a world where fake news is a thing we have to worry about, knowing your facts is key. It can be tempting to spit out soundbites you read while scanning social media. But, an ill-informed argument can do serious damage to your career. Not only are you wrong in the moment, but to be passionately wrong will chip away at your trustworthiness.
Admitting you’re not up to speed on something can actually be a positive influence in your career. It adds to your credibility to show you’re someone who cares about a certain issue and puts the time in to make sure you get your facts straight. If you get pulled into a discussion you’re not totally familiar with, excuse yourself until you do your homework.
Don’t: Touch Heated Issues
There are politics, and then there are politics. Tax code and education policy are one thing that can be debated safely. But, as Lynze Ward Lenio writes in @dailymuse, “Hot button issues like same-sex marriage and abortion should just plain be avoided—there’s really no middle ground, as opinions are often tied to religious or moral beliefs, and going down this road is more likely than not to result in an intense conversation.” There are some things we believe deeply: and debating them at work isn’t going to change anyone’s point of view.
Don’t: Assume social media is an acceptable alternative.
Ranting on social media can feel like a safe, cathartic alternative to speaking up at the office. Before you go on a tear about immigration policy, remember that 87% of employees are reading political social media posts during work. Plus, what you say on social media lives forever. While you might be happy in your current position, 93% of hiring managers check up on your social media profiles before making a hiring decision. What you say online has long-term consequences for your career!
Do: stay true to yourself.
While technically your free speech is protected at work, we all realize that in practice speaking up to disagree with someone comes with a certain amount of risk. Somewhere along the way, you may disagree with a senior leader, and speaking up can negatively affect your prospects at the company. Does that mean you should work for someone who stands for everything you’re against? Only you can answer that question. Be true to yourself and know your priorities. You shouldn’t have to lie about your beliefs to get ahead in your career!
The BULLIT community is here to support you, no matter what politics you follow. Don’t leave your personality at home each day: the things you believe make you the best employee you can be! We want to give you the tools to show what makes you unique: your leadership, trustworthiness, and wisdom. Join the 400,000 now on BULLIT and stand above the crowd!
Also published on Medium.