Please No Politics at Work: How To Stay Neutral As Women in The Workplace

Navigating political discussions at work requires strategies as the election nears.

Navigating political discussions at work requires strategies as the election nears.

With the countdown to the presidential election gathering intensity, no doubt tensions arise over political discussions in the office, meetings or at business conference, events or dinners.

Perhaps you work with all like-minded voters and you can openly share your opinions. Everyone wears the same t-shirts and adores the same candidates.

Most likely that is not the case. You want to be authentic, but you do not want to be argumentative.

So how do you maintain your calm and neutrality in the professional sphere during an election season that is divisive, polarizing and at times vicious?

How do you maintain your calm in the professional sphere during an election season? #taketheleadwomen

To make it all even worse and feel more personal, the battleground seems to center on the treatment of women. And remaining out of the fray is necessary as respectful men and women in the workplace.

“Already deeply divisive, America’s campaign for president is quickly devolving into an ugly fight over who has treated women worse: Donald Trump, whose White House bid is floundering, or former President Bill Clinton, who isn’t on the ballot,” writes Julie Pace in Business Insider.

“The contentiousness of this presidential campaign is spilling into some workplaces. And even when there’s no rancor, more time is being spent on election chatter,” according to  CBSNews.

“Employment attorney Nannina Angioni usually gets calls from clients during election campaigns, ‘but not at this level.’ As Election Day nears, owners are seeing more anger. Some say the level of acrimony is affecting employees’ ability to work together. Many want to ban political talk altogether,” CBS reports.

Other advice to avoid a hostile work environment with employees and colleagues pitted against each other is to remind everyone — men and women in the workplace — to be respectful.

“’Enforce the fact that you’re running a business. Political discussions at break time are fine as long as they’re respectful,’ said Laura Kerekes, who heads the team of consultants at ThinkHR of Pleasanton, California.” CBS reports.

You can suggest people focus on work and not politics in the office at all, but you have to be careful as a leader that your own politics do not influence the workplace, writes lawyer Dan Eaton in the San Diego Union.

“Laws passed by the California legislature limit how much influence a private employer may exert over its employees’ political views and activities. No California employer may adopt a ‘rule, regulation, or policy’ that prohibits an employee from ‘engaging or participating in politics’ or running for public office. Also off-limits is any rule that tends to control or direct the ‘political activities or affiliations of employees.’ In addition, a California employer may not threaten to fire any employee who adopts or refuses to adopt ‘any particular course or line of political action or political activity,’” Eaton writes.

But it is best to maintain a rule of abstinence from heavy political talk at work, just as it is to restrain from having a political fight at a holiday family party.

It’s best to maintain a rule of abstinence from heavy political talk at work #taketheleadwomen

“It also is unwise, though not illegal, for those in authority to share their political views with a subordinate who is feeling aggrieved, especially if those views are not solicited. If the views of the boss clash with the subordinate, an employee who is later fired may point to that disagreement as an unlawful contributing factor in the discharge,” Eaton writes.

For sure you want to avoid fisticuffs at the water cooler, verbal jabs launched over cubicles and eye-rolling or dirty looks in meetings. You also do not want to appear to be ostrich-like and that you are unaware of the latest political events every day, particular in days after debates or other campaign major news.

Rebecca Knight writes in Harvard Business Review: Talking about politics at work is tricky business.

“’Politics is very personal, and we tend to hold our beliefs extremely strongly,’ says Liane Davey, cofounder of 3COze Inc. and author of You First: Inspire Your Team to Grow Up, Get Along, and Get Stuff Done. ‘No matter how much others try to influence us, we’re not likely to move our positions — if anything, we’re likely to retrench.’ Put simply, politics often doesn’t make for good workplace conversation,” Knight writes.

“And yet, says Joseph Grenny, coauthor of Crucial Conversations and cofounder of VitalSmarts, a corporate training company, you spend the majority of your waking hours with your colleagues, and so it’s natural to ‘feel the need to process your thoughts and feelings’ with them. In fact, he says, 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,” Knight writes.

Knight offers some specific do’s and don’ts on the topic of political banter at work:

  • Recognize the risks. If you decide to speak your mind on a particular hot-button issue, do so knowing that the chances of influencing your colleagues are slim and that you may offend someone.

  • Ask questions. Be curious and open minded.

  • Show respect by validating either the content of the other person’s viewpoint or his right to have an opinion.

  • Do not demonize the other side. Instead, look for areas of agreement.

  • Do not lie about your views, but don’t feel you need to be fully candid and transparent

  • Do not tolerate a colleague’s incessant political talk. If his behavior is distracting, say so.

If you are cool with tiptoeing into the waters of political discussion at work, Jacqueline Whitmore of Entrepreneur maintains you can find smooth sailing if you are intentional.

“Although politics is often considered one of the taboo topics for the workplace, you can still maintain civil discourse while maneuvering through the minefield of emotions surrounding political opinions. So, as we gear up for the last few weeks of the presidential race, here are several strategies to help you know what to say or what not to say,” Whitmore writes.

Here are her strategies:

  1. Listen with the intent to understand.

  2. Use ‘I’ statements.

  3. Cultivate your curiosity.

  4. Know the issues.

  5. Choose your battles.

  6. Walk away.

I have a few tips of my own, earned as a journalist in some contentious newsrooms, faculty on the graduate and undergraduate levels in journalism at Northwestern University for 18 years and a senior leader with for the last six years.

A stalwart principle of The OpEd Project is that when dealing with opposition, you always treat opposing viewpoints with empathy and respect.

When dealing with opposition, always treat opposing viewpoints with empathy and respect #taketheleadwomen

Another is not to use the terms always or never. And finally, do not stoop to uncivil behavior, even if your colleague is throwing word bombs and finger pointing.

I vote that each one of us maintains calm professionalism at work, and particularly this election season.

About the Author

Michele Weldon is editorial director of Take The Lead, an award-winning author, journalist, emerita faculty in journalism at Northwestern University and a senior leader with The OpEd Project. @micheleweldon