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Cast your vote for workplace civility

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in Office Management,Workplace Communication

Politicians may sling mud at one another, but wise workers will stay above the fray during the 2008 presidential election campaign by keeping heated political discussions out of the workplace, says P.M. Forni, director of the Civility Initiative at The Johns Hopkins University.

But political discussions are bound to come up. How do you defend yourself from intrusive questions? How do you voice your opinions, especially when talking to senior execs?

A few suggestions from Forni:

Decide whether this is the right time and place to talk. Is the conversation likely to become heated? Is it worth your time to engage in conversation, or does a pressing assignment need your attention more? You can always change the subject, excuse yourself or even say that you’d rather not talk politics right now.

Remember that you don’t have to disclose your position at all. When asked how you intend to vote, you can smile and answer, “You know, I think that the fewer tags we give one another at work the better,” or “I’m sure I’ll make up my mind before Election Day.”

Forni says beware of the “outing game.” A co-worker may say something like, “And how is our favorite conservative today?”

“Wrapped in tinny friendliness, it is still coercion, and there is no excuse for it in a civil workplace,” says Forni. If you feel you need to respond, try saying, “And who would that be?” and return to your work.

Be fair and respectful, if you do choose to discuss politics. Don’t interrupt or ignore, and steer clear of demeaning language toward other candidates. And be sure to acknowledge points on which you agree. You’ll have to face co-workers every workday, long after Election Day.

Never take for granted that coworkers and acquaintances share your political preferences. Even friends whose steady voting record you know may vote on occasion for the “other guy.”

Express yourself with poise and determination. When you begin to feel bullied or defensive, you can simply say, “That’s my opinion, and I’ve given it a lot of thought.”

Then extricate yourself from the conversation by saying, “Let’s just accept that we have different opinions about this and move on.” You’ll have ended the conversation gracefully.

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