In an election year, fodder for political debate is always abundant. As a result, discussions about job creation, taxes, healthcare, foreign policy and other contentious issues can get heated.
If you're a political junkie or a fan of healthy debate, it can be tough to contain yourself in times like these. What better way to spend lunch at the office with coworkers than by hammering away at one another about one hot-button political issue after another, right? That may be how you feel, but plenty of other workers think work and politics simply don't mix. Still others take a middle ground -- they'll listen, but prefer to keep their opinions to themselves.
So what is appropriate when it comes to discussing political issues at work?
"There's nothing more American or patriotic than hearing and listening to an opposing opinion," says Sandra Spataro, an assistant professor of organizational behavior at Yale University's School of Management. Spataro says she's "in favor of making things more explicit, talking through things that are on people's minds in a natural, take-a-break kind of way so that they don't fester in people's minds and distract them from their work."
But Spataro concedes that talking politics on the job should be equal to the amount of current events chitchat that normally takes place in the particular work setting. "The amount of casual [political] conversation should be consistent with what that workplace has done traditionally," she says. "What you don't want to do is introduce 10 minutes for politics talk in banking when that has never happened before. It should be something that occurs naturally or doesn't happen at all."
Spataro notes that "more creative, more collaborative environments -- like high tech, advertising, media relations and research environments" are the types of industries where more open conversation about such matters tends to abound.
Warning to the Wise
The key to talking politics with colleagues is doing so without passing judgment or letting emotions carry you away. "As a manager, if I saw that there was an issue, I would remind people that there are standards of professionalism and common courtesy," advises Spataro. "What you don't want to do is introduce differences between employees that are going to bring in more conflict or negative sentiment."
"If you can engender a culture of exchange -- try to get rid of some of that judgment -– in the end, you're going to be healthier than suppressing conversation entirely," she adds. "What you want to get to is the point where there's going to be a healthy interchange."
Of course, it's prudent to always bear in mind that people may come to conclusions about you based on your political beliefs; the more you vocalize your political opinions, the more you leave yourself vulnerable to such judgments.
When it comes to discussing politics and its effect on your career, you may benefit from a nugget of advice from 30th US President Calvin Coolidge: "No man ever listened himself out of a job."