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

Nonworkplace 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) by SA 3.0 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 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. 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

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See also Ethics at Work for more related articles.

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When projects overrun their budgets and/or schedules, we sometimes "downscope" to save time and money. The tactic can succeed — and fail. Three common anti-patterns involve politics, the sunk cost effect, and cognitive biases that distort estimates. Available here and by RSS on October 5.
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We sometimes "downscope" projects to bring them back on budget and schedule when they're headed for overruns. Downscoping doesn't always work. Cognitive biases like the sunk cost effect and confirmation bias can distort decisions about how to downscope. Available here and by RSS on October 12.

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