The recent Hobby Lobby ruling illustrates how adding politics into the workplace can create volatility. Even though most situations are unlikely to call for Supreme Court involvement, if your political leanings clash with those of your boss, the outcome can be uncomfortable at best. Everyone is entitled to their opinion, but handling different views the wrong way can put your career at risk.
As risky as it can be, a lot of us still engage in political talk at the office: A CareerBuilder survey found that 36% of workers say they discuss politics at work. Nearly a quarter of those have had a “heated discussion or fight” with a colleague or higher-up over politics. Older workers and men are more likely to talk politics, but these discussions span across demographics. Here’s how to keep a political firestorm from torching your career.
Keep away from contentious topics when possible. “If your political views clash with your boss’, then it is best to avoid the topic all together,” says Rosemary Haefner, CareerBuilder’s vice president of human resources. “If you know the topic will turn quickly from a discussion into an argument, avoid it,” she says. Of course, if your supervisor insists on bringing it up, you might have no choice, in which case it’s in your best interest to find a point — any point — of common ground.
Remember that being too opinionated could backfire. Your constitutional freedom of speech won’t let you get away with saying whatever you want, Todd Fredrickson, a Denver-based partner at labor law firm Fisher & Phillips LLP, tells the Wall St. Journal, especially if you work in the private sector. Most companies don’t explicitly regulate political discussion, but there could be more informal fallout for taking a higher-up to task over their views.
Know your boss — and yourself. “If you both are capable of having a discussion without it turning into something bigger, than go for it,” Haefner says. Keep in mind, though, that your friendly debate might be the kind of conversation that makes other co-workers uncomfortable. “Remember that the two of you are not the only people in the office,” Haefner cautions.
Don’t let your emotions get the better of you. “The worst case scenario is not to be aware of how your communications are being received,” a Salary.com article advises. This advice is aimed towards avoiding conflicts in office politics, but it holds true for on-the-job political discussions more generally, too. “Remaining emotionally detached and business-like minimizes your exposure… emotional outbursts not only undermine your position but, if habitual, your employment too.”
Stick to the facts and know when to get out. “Conversations become contentious when we interject opinion,” Haefner says. “Also, watch for signs that the conversation is escalating and have an exit strategy,” she advises. Excuse yourself to make a phone call, check mail or email, or even to use the bathroom — as long as it gets you out of there.