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 workWorkplace 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. Top Next Issue
Is 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
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More articles on Ethics at Work:
- Dubious 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?
- Virtual Termination with Real Respect
- When we have to terminate someone who works at a remote site, sometimes there's a temptation to avoid
travel — to use email, phone, fax, or something else. They're all bad ideas. Terminating people
in person is not only a gesture of respect. It's good business.
- Personnel-Sensitive Risks: II
- Personnel-sensitive risks are risks that are difficult to discuss openly. Open discussion could infringe
on someone's privacy, or lead to hurt feelings, or to toxic politics or toxic conflict. If we can't
discuss them openly, how can we deal with them?
- Some Truths About Lies: III
- Detecting lies by someone intent on misrepresentation is an important skill for executives, managers,
project managers, and just about anyone involved in knowledge-oriented organizations. Here's Part III
of our little collection of lie detection techniques.
- Full Disclosure
- The term "full disclosure" is now a fairly common phrase, especially in news interviews and
in film and fiction thrillers involving government employees or attorneys. It also has relevance in
the knowledge workplace, and nuances associated with it can affect your credibility.
See also Ethics at Work for more related articles.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming December 18: The Trap of Beautiful Language
- As we assess the validity of others' statements, we risk making a characteristically human error — we confuse the beauty of their language with the reliability of its meaning. We're easily thrown off by alliteration, anaphora, epistrophe, and chiasmus. Available here and by RSS on December 18.
- And on December 25: Disjoint Awareness
- In collaborations, awareness of how our own work might interfere with the work of others is essential. Unless our awareness of others' work — and their awareness of ours — matches reality, the collaboration's objective is at risk. Available here and by RSS on December 25.
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- The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power
Many people who possess real organizational power have a characteristic demeanor. It's the way they project their presence. I call this the power affect. Some people — call them power pretenders — adopt the power affect well before they attain significant organizational power. Unfortunately for their colleagues, and for their organizations, power pretenders can attain organizational power out of proportion to their merit or abilities. Understanding the power affect is therefore important for anyone who aims to attain power, or anyone who works with power pretenders. Read more about this program.