With the 2012 presidential election only hours away, everyone has politics on the brain. But, is the heated race between President Obama and Gov. Mitt Romney an appropriate water cooler topic? If so, to what degree? More importantly, will broadcasting your political opinions harm your career or your business relationships?
Everyone is entitled to his or her own political opinions. But if you wish to share yours, here are some things to consider when navigating political discussion in the workplace:
Weigh your pros and cons
If someone shares your political views, it may make you feel validated, give the other person more credibility in your eyes, or may just simply be an enjoyable conversation. But truthfully, that upside pales in comparison to the possible downside if the person is on the opposite end of the political spectrum.
Engaging in a political discussion or getting into a heated debate, however fun, is not worth damaging a business relationship or potentially losing a client.
You face an even bigger risk if the other person is a co-worker, client, or someone with whom you do business, because his or her (now possibly) negative perception of you could ultimately hurt your relationship. Engaging in a political discussion or getting into a heated debate, however fun, is not worth damaging a business relationship or potentially losing a client.
Know your brand
Open political discussion may be more common in industries or organizations that are generally tilted to one side of the political spectrum. Among oil and gas executives or leaders of nonprofit organizations like the hotly-debated PBS for example, it’s safe to assume that political chatter will be more one-sided.
In the service industry, however, it’s probably wise for companies and executives to remain neutral for the sake of their clients and customers. Recently the fast food chain Chick-fil-A found itself in hot water for taking a controversial political stance on gay marriage. When the end goal is to gain new clients and customers, the last thing an organization wants or needs is an organized protest against its services and products. Keep your brand in mind and know who your audience is when deciding what is appropriate for your business.
Be extra cautious when it comes to social media
It’s virtually impossible to log on to any social media site these days without being bombarded by others’ thoughts on current political events. We all have that one Facebook friend (or 10) who compulsively posts aggressive political comments and engages in heated online debates. These posts can range from annoying to downright offensive, even if you agree with the poster’s stance.
And truth be told, no one ever changes political beliefs because of a Facebook post.
If you wouldn’t say it to a colleague or a client, you shouldn’t post it on the Internet.
It’s particularly important to keep in mind who your Facebook friends and Twitter followers are. Are they only family members and friends, or can your colleagues, customers, and clients view your posts as well?
It is easy to forget who can view your social media accounts, but remember that what you post on the Internet can come back to haunt you, especially if it’s derogatory of another person or political party. If you wouldn’t say it to a colleague or a client, you shouldn’t post it on the Internet.
Political bullying is real
Many people do not realize when they are being bullied at work, or when they witness a coworker being bullied. Every individual has a right to his or her own political beliefs, and neither the workplace nor social media is the place to denigrate others because of their views. Additionally, employees should not be intimidated into hiding their political views (or lying about them) to keep their job or avoid being passed over for a promotion.
Attempting to coerce someone with whom you work into adopting a certain political viewpoint may constitute bullying and could result in legal action against the company. Managers should be cautious about making political views known to others and could be accused of a human resources violation if employees change their behavior to curry favor. And it’s never acceptable to ask employees which candidate they favor.
When in doubt, keep mum
Many of us were taught from a young age to “never discuss politics or religion in polite company.” While this saying may seem a little dated, it is still excellent advice for the workplace.
There is a big difference between discussing politics casually over lunch with a longtime friend and having the same discussion with a coworker. If you’re unsure about whether a political discussion would be appropriate, it’s probably best to avoid the topic altogether.
There are plenty of executives who are generous donors to political campaigns, but never engage in political discussions with co-workers—they just won’t go there. When it comes to politics, the workplace is one place where neutrality truly may be the best policy.
Allie Page is a research associate at The Alexander Group, where she never discusses who she is voting for.