The 2016 election is heating up?—?and with it have arisen some contentious and divisive issues. These issues are coming up not just on the campaign trail and at the debates; they’re coming up over cubicles, near the water cooler and even in client meetings all across the country.
Leadership guru and former GE CEO Jack Welch recently wrote a piece on LinkedIn about why he thinks people should feel comfortable talking about politics at work: He thinks politics are an important part of life and that people should bring their authentic selves to work. But I’m not buying it.
My political views solidified in high school, and I’m very passionate about what I believe. Still, I try to steer far, far away from the topic in my work life. Political discourse is so divisive that it can derail perfectly good work relationships, distract people from their responsibilities, and actually impede your company’s profits?—?or even your own. That’s especially true for salespeople like me, as our compensation is tied in part to our ability to build relationships.
Let me give you some examples that illustrate this from my own career.
At a prior job, I had a work friend bring up political views that I found extremely offensive.
I was shocked. My feelings about the person completely changed, and I doubt our relationship will ever be the same. In this case, ignorance was truly bliss; I would have been much happier not knowing her feelings on the topic in question.
And once you start questioning a person’s judgment, it’s hard to not also question his or her judgment on the work itself. Any possibility of us collaborating on a project was lost in that moment. And we probably could have done great things together.
As another example, I once became friendly with a woman at an ad agency who began working with one of my clients.
I educated her about the client, and in turn, she invested money in the advertising solution I offered. Due to the complexity of the account, we spoke almost daily.
When I left my position at that company, I added her on social media and was surprised to see that her beliefs were antithetical to mine. I quietly backed away from her. We stopped calling each other for advice about how to handle various account issues and now we no longer talk at all. While we could be partnering on new accounts?—?to the benefit of both of our careers?—?we haven’t sought each other out.
In another job, I worked with a manager who talked about politics quite a lot. Because our viewpoints differed, I found this got in the way of my ability to respect and trust this person;
I also believe that the discomfort of frequently dealing with a conflict of beliefs was a factor in some of my colleagues’ choices to move on.
This was an especially tricky situation. When one person holds more power in a relationship, that person talking about his or her political agenda can really do damage. If someone denigrates your point of view, it can feel like unintentional baiting?—?this kind of behavior from a manager could be a form of workplace harassment.
I found myself having to really work at keeping my mouth shut so as not to say something that would harm my relationship with this manager. People should not have to work like this.
What I’ve learned from all of this is that you should keep political talk at a minimum at work. Steering clear of divisive topics like politics is an excellent way to showcase your professionalism and manners. And if you don’t expect to bring anyone around to seeing things your way?—?hopefully they will treat you with the same respect.
Of course, you may have friends that you enjoy talking with about politics, and you may think you can do the same with your work associates. But remember that if you leave a heated debate with your non-work friends, there is no potential impact to your paycheck?—?whereas at work, your compensation and ultimate success is tied to your ability to collaborate with those around you.
Now when politics come up at work, I first have to stop myself from engaging in the discussion, and then I try to crack a joke that will change the subject. If that fails, I may ask the person to take their discussion elsewhere or, as a last resort, remove myself from the area.
Even when you and your friends at work are all aligned on a party or candidate, you should still refrain from public discussion. Be aware that your chat may be creating an unpleasant environment for someone who can’t help but overhear you.
Next time you want to catch up on the latest debate news or have a friendly disagreement about the issues of the day, save it for your friends outside of work. There are still eight months until the election?—?and some of us are trying to hit our sales goals.
Jessica L. Benjamin is a team lead for commercial telesales for Monster Worldwide, where she works with Monster’s customers and account managers to implement the right solutions to increase employers’ success in hiring top talent. Follow her on Twitter @JLBHireCalling.
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