I’ve been taught there are two things you shouldn’t talk about – politics and religion. Of course, I do discuss these topics among close friends who I know are respectful of varying viewpoints, as I am. But I don’t consider these subjects appropriate in an office setting. Unfortunately, I have a co-worker who is passionate about politics and spouts his opinions loudly and regularly, with the attitude that everyone surely agrees with his take. It’s extremely distracting and I’m finding it more and more difficult to keep quiet. What do you suggest?
– Feeling Red, White and Blue
Dear Feeling Blue,
People sure get passionate about politics, so you’re not alone in having to deal with this workplace dilemma. I don’t want to bog you down with numbers, but I found the results of one recent survey pretty interesting: 54 percent of workers said that political discussions are not healthy and don’t improve communications. Moreover, 78 percent of workers claimed that such discussions cause workplace tension. Yet, interestingly, even a greater number – 80 percent – don’t want employers to forbid such discussions in the office. (Guess such a policy would fall under the umbrella of censorship, which is hard for most anyone to endorse!)
One of the pitfalls of political discussions is that they can turn into personal attacks if the conversation veers into finger-pointing, and that’s not healthy in any situation – business or otherwise. Not only does the bottom line suffer when employees are distracted, it could potentially create a hostile work environment, which carries legal ramifications.
In any conversation you want to be respectful, and in this case you want to end the conversation quickly. Try out some of the following phraseology, then with your body language turn back to the task at hand or simply walk away.
“You are certainly passionate about politics!”
“I’ll respect your views, and I appreciate you respecting mine as well.”
“It’s clear you feel strongly about politics, and I prefer to keep these conversations out of the workplace.”
Since my personal style is one with a bit of humor and directness, I’d be certain my tone is light and playful as I might say, “(Name), as I tell my man, unless you’re going to take action, get involved and do something about what frustrates you, I’m no longer interested in hearing about it.” And, I’d remind him of this next time…because chances are, they’ll be a next time.