Do’s and Don’ts of Political Conversations at Work
When it comes to talking about politics, avoiding the topic entirely is the best, and simplest, policy for the workplace. Seems easy, right? But in reality this concrete recommendation can be hard to follow, especially during an election season, when news, pop culture, and the internet are aflutter with political memes, jokes, analysis, and chatter. And, with social media, co-workers become “friends” on Facebook and followers on Twitter, blurring the line between friendship and office relationships.
This means even opinions voiced outside the office can be seen by co-workers. Plus, even if you’re diligent about avoiding politics on social media and in person, that’s no guarantee that your co-workers will show similar restraint.
Do’s and Don’ts for Talking Politics at Work
Follow these simple do’s and don’ts for political conversation at work to make sure that you don’t offend co-workers or get on the wrong side of human resources.
DO Know Your Company Policy: Freedom of speech is a constitutional right, but that doesn’t mean that your employer is necessarily limited from imposing guidelines on what can—and can’t—be discussed in the office. Review your company policy before you send around a fundraising email, or share your thoughts and opinions on the latest political scandal.
DON’T Pry: A manager once asked me about my vote in a primary election, as we waited outside a conference room for a meeting to kick-off. It was supremely awkward—and not only because I knew we’d voted differently. Avoid this kind of overly direct question—or if you do inquire, ask during a more social moment, such as after-work drinks or lunchtime. And stay alert to co-worker’s signals: if a person shuts down the conversation or seems uncomfortable, back off from the discussion.
DO Think Twice Before You Post: The rules on social media can be murkiest of all. What’s polite? What’s crossing the line? Be aware of any rules your employer may have regarding behavior on social media. Let the story of Justine Sacco—who tweeted an offensive joke, sparked internet outrage, and was fired from her job—serve as a lesson that you can’t say simply anything you want on Twitter, Facebook, or other social media sites. You may opt to keep your posts private from colleagues.
Be wary of defriending co-workers whose viewpoints you disagree with, or whose commentary you find offensive—try blocking instead, which will limit your contact with co-workers, while avoiding hurt feelings or drama. If a post is genuinely offensive, and could be damaging to the company’s reputation, inform human resources.
DO Speak Up: If you hear a co-worker saying something that crosses the line, whether because it’s offensive, assumes a shared bias, or is in any way inappropriate for the workplace, speak up. You can say something directly in the moment—”I don’t think that’s a good office topic!”—send an email, or inform your manager or HR person.
And of course, DON’T Be Offensive Yourself: refrain in in work-related emails and conversations from being overly personal and passionate about politics, or calling politicians or their supporters negative names. Err on the side of discretion and courtesy.
DO Be Civil: Essentially, it’s a good idea to always be reasonable and modulated in your conversation at work. The office is no place for insults or raised voices. If someone says something you strongly disagree with, question if it’s appropriate to correct them, or necessary for you to engage. Remember, even if a co-worker disagrees with your politics, that’s just one part of their personality and beliefs. Don’t let politics interfere with a smooth working relationship.