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 nonworkplace 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 nonworkplace 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, nonpartisan 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:
- Looking the Other Way
- Sometimes when we notice wrongdoing, and we aren't directly involved, we don't report it, and we don't
intervene. We look the other way. Typically, we do this to avoid the risks of making a report. But looking
the other way is also risky. What are the risks of looking the other way?
- 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.
- More Things I've Learned Along the Way: IV
- When I gain an important insight, or when I learn a lesson, I write it down. Here's Part IV from my
personal collection. Example: When it comes to disputes and confusion, one person is enough.
- Vendor Mismanagement
- When we outsource knowledge work to vendors, we expect to achieve the desired result with less risk
and uncertainty than if we did the work ourselves. But mission creep, mission retrenchment and employee
capture can lead to less welcome results.
- More Things I've Learned Along the Way: V
- When I gain an important insight, or when I learn a lesson, I make a note. Example: If you're interested
in changing how a social construct operates, knowing how it came to be the way it is can be much less
useful than knowing what keeps it the way it is.
See also Ethics at Work for more related articles.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming June 14: Pseudo-Collaborations
- Most workplace collaborations produce results of value. But some collaborations — pseudo-collaborations — are inherently incapable of producing value, due to performance management systems, or lack of authority, or lack of access to information. Available here and by RSS on June 14.
- And on June 21: Asking Burning Questions
- When we suddenly realize that an important question needs answering, directly asking that question in a meeting might not be an effective way to focus the attention of the group. There are risks. Fortunately, there are also ways to manage those risks. Available here and by RSS on June 21.
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