Point Lookout: a free weekly publication of Chaco Canyon Consulting
Volume 4, Issue 17;   April 28, 2004: Non-Workplace Politics

Non-Workplace Politics

by

When we bring national or local political issues into the workplace — especially the divisive issues — we risk disrupting our relationships, our projects, and the company itself.
Elevator doors at the Spalding Building, Portland, Oregon (2012)

Elevator doors at the Spalding Building, Portland, Oregon (2012). Photo (cc) Another Believer.

The doors opened and Marcus stepped aboard the elevator, which was almost full of people from the Government Sales conference on 12. The elevator people were all laughing for some reason. The doors closed and Marcus called across to nobody in particular, "Three, please."

"Are you sure?" The question came from someone on the other side of the elevator.

"Pretty sure," Marcus replied. Weird question, he thought.

"Because if you're sure, you might be the only person in this whole state who's sure where he's going, and it definitely disqualifies you for Governor." Laughs from most of the elevator.

That was enough for Marcus. "On second thought, punch Five for me will ya?" Gales of laughter now.

Marcus didn't really want to get off at Five, but the elevator's Weirdness Quotient was over his limit. He wondered what they'd been serving on breaks at the G-Sales conference.

It's usually wise to
resist the temptation
to discuss national
or world politics
at work
Workplace politics is bad enough, but how do we handle non-workplace politics at work? 2004 is a presidential election year in the US, and because our voters are sharply divided about almost everything, the temptation to discuss politics at work is strong. In most cases, it's wise to resist the temptation.

Discussions of governmental politics might be appropriate in some workplaces, such as the offices of political campaigns. But unless your organization's mission is intimately intertwined with governmental politics, raising political topics in the workplace can be risky to you and to the enterprise.

Political discussions at work — even between friends — can expose sharp differences about issues irrelevant to the work, which can create obstacles that make harmonious cooperation more difficult. Why risk it?

Here are some tips for handling situations that involve non-workplace politics.

Avoid joking about divisive issues
Assume that everyone in the room disagrees with you. If someone else jokes politically, limit your laughter — you never know whether or not your laughing will offend someone.
Excuse yourself if you can
If the conversation turns political, politely excuse yourself if you can, and find something else to do. If you can't leave, keep mum. If you can't keep mum, keep as mum as possible.
Waltz past outrageous assertions or innuendos
The more inflammatory barbs and taunts are traps. Walk around them. That's what Marcus did by getting off at Five.
Decline requests for money or volunteers
If someone at work asks you to volunteer to work on, or to donate money to a political campaign, decline politely. Depending upon the circumstances, such requests are often illegal. Company policy probably forbids such requests by supervisors. Check with HR.

Certain kinds of comments are usually safe. For instance, non-partisan jokes about Congress, in the tradition of Mark Twain, seem to be just fine, except if you work in Congress. No, wait, joking about Congress is OK even if you do work in Congress. Just stay out of the elevators. Go to top Top  Next issue: The Fundamental Attribution Error  Next Issue

303 Secrets of Workplace PoliticsIs every other day a tense, anxious, angry misery as you watch people around you, who couldn't even think their way through a game of Jacks, win at workplace politics and steal the credit and glory for just about everyone's best work including yours? Read 303 Secrets of Workplace Politics, filled with tips and techniques for succeeding in workplace politics. More info

Your comments are welcome

Would you like to see your comments posted here? rbrenKOYyUkqkczRGMjXwner@ChacxHgmfrSyYEeXIhijoCanyon.comSend me your comments by email, or by Web form.

About Point Lookout

Thank you for reading this article. I hope you enjoyed it and found it useful, and that you'll consider recommending it to a friend.

Point Lookout is a free weekly email newsletter. Browse the archive of past issues. Subscribe for free.

Support Point Lookout by joining the Friends of Point Lookout, as an individual or as an organization.

Do you face a complex interpersonal situation? Send it in, anonymously if you like, and I'll give you my two cents.

Related articles

More articles on Ethics at Work:

Two infants exchanging secretsYou Have to Promise Not to Tell a Soul
You're at lunch with one of your buddies, who's obviously upset. You ask why. "You have to promise not to tell a soul," is the response. You promise. And there the trouble begins.
Mark Twain in 1907When You're Scared to Tell the Truth
In the project context, we need to know that whatever we're hearing from colleagues is the truth as they see it. Yet, sometimes we shade the truth, or omit important details. Here's a list of some of the advantages of telling the truth.
A cup of coffeeDubious Dealings
Negotiating contracts with outsourcing suppliers can present ethical dilemmas, even when we try to be as fair as possible. The negotiation itself can present conflicts of interest. What are those conflicts?
Former U.S. Secretary of State Colin PowellDevious Political Tactics: A Field Manual
Some practitioners of workplace politics use an assortment of devious tactics to accomplish their ends. Since most of us operate in a fairly straightforward manner, the devious among us gain unfair advantage. Here are some of their techniques, and some suggestions for effective responses.
Washington Irving, American author, 1783-1859Extrasensory Deception: Part I
Negotiation skills are increasingly essential in problem-solving workplaces. When incentives are strong, or pressure is high, deception is tempting. Here are some of the deceptions popular among negotiators.

See also Ethics at Work for more related articles.

Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout

A vizsla in a pose called the play bowComing April 26: Why Dogs Make the Best Teammates
Dogs make great teammates. It's in their constitutions. We can learn a lot from dogs about being good teammates. Available here and by RSS on April 26.
A business meetingAnd on May 3: Start the Meeting with a Check-In
Check-ins give meeting attendees a chance to express satisfaction or surface concerns about how things are going. They're a valuable aid to groups that want to stay on course, or get back on course when needed. Available here and by RSS on May 3.

Coaching services

I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates. Contact Rick for details at rbrenenXOjWqRHpWSRPRvner@ChacdsiOHrcTYSjpXbPGoCanyon.com or (617) 491-6289, or toll-free in the continental US at (866) 378-5470.

Get the ebook!

Past issues of Point Lookout are available in six ebooks:

Reprinting this article

Are you a writer, editor or publisher on deadline? Are you looking for an article that will get people talking and get compliments flying your way? You can have 500 words in your inbox in one hour. License any article from this Web site. More info

Public seminars

Changing How We Change: The Essence of Agility
MasteChanging How We Change: The Essence of Agilityry of the ability to adapt to unpredictable and changing circumstances is one way of understanding the success of Agile methodologies for product development. Applying the principles of Change Mastery, we can provide the analogous benefits in a larger arena. By exploring strategies and tactics for enhancing both the resilience and adaptability of projects and portfolios, we show why agile methodologies are so powerful, and how to extend them beyond product development to efforts of all kinds. Read more about this program. Here's an upcoming date for this program:

Creating High Performance Virtual Teams
Many Creating High Performance Virtual Teamspeople experience virtual teams as awkward, slow, and sometimes frustrating. Even when most team members hail from the same nation or culture, and even when they all speak the same language, geographic dispersion or the presence of employees from multiple enterprises is often enough to exclude all possibility of high performance. The problem is that we lead, manage, and support virtual teams in ways that are too much like the way we lead, manage, and support co-located teams. In this program, Rick Brenner shows you how to change your approach to leading, managing, and supporting virtual teams to achieve high performance using Simons' Four Spans model of high performance. Read more about this program. Here's an upcoming date for this program:

The Race to the South Pole: Ten Lessons for Project Managers
On 14The Race to the Pole: Ten Lessons for Project Managers December 1911, four men led by Roald Amundsen reached the South Pole. Thirty-five days later, Robert F. Scott and four others followed. Amundsen had won the race to the pole. Amundsen's party returned to base on 26 January 1912. Scott's party perished. As historical drama, why this happened is interesting enough, but to organizational leaders, business analysts, project sponsors, and project managers, the story is fascinating. Lessons abound. Read more about this program. Here's an upcoming date for this program:

Follow Rick

Send email or subscribe to one of my newsletters Follow me at LinkedIn Follow me at Twitter, or share a tweet Follow me at Google+ or share a post Subscribe to RSS feeds Subscribe to RSS feeds
The message of Point Lookout is unique. Help get the message out. Please donate to help keep Point Lookout available for free to everyone.
21st Century Business TravelAre your business trips long chains of stressful misadventures? Have you ever wondered if there's a better way to get from here to there relaxed and refreshed? First class travel is one alternative, but you can do almost as well (without the high costs) if you know the tricks of the masters of 21st-century e-enabled business travel…
52 Tips for Leaders of Project-Oriented OrganizationsAre your project teams plagued by turnover, burnout, and high defect rates? Turn your culture around.
303 Secrets of Workplace PoliticsIs every other day a tense, anxious, angry misery as you watch people around you, who couldn't even think their way through a game of Jacks, win at workplace politics and steal the credit and glory for just about everyone's best work including yours? Read 303 Secrets of Workplace Politics!
Go For It: Sometimes It's Easier If You RunBad boss, long commute, troubling ethical questions, hateful colleague? Learn what we can do when we love the work but not the job.
101 Tips for Effective MeetingsLearn how to make meetings more productive — and more rare.
Ebooks, booklets and tip books on project management, conflict, writing email, effective meetings and more.