September 19, 2012
It's election season: leave those political buttons at home
It's that season again, the time when campaign signs litter the medians like trash after a windstorm, fresh bumper stickers scream out sound-bite ideologies, the politicians are calling you with prerecorded messages, and your cubicle neighbor can't stop railing, "Wait 'til November, just wait!"
Can't a citizen get any peace, at least at work?
A reader sent me this question, one that's likely on the minds of many a worker this fall:
Is it appropriate to display or discuss one's political opinions at the office? Are there any ground rules people should be following?
Arden Clise, a business-etiquette consultant and president of Clise Etiquette, based in Seattle, says that there is a time and place for civil discourse, but that the workplace is neither.
"Remember what Mom taught us?" asked Clise. "Never discuss politics or religion in mixed company. Today, mixed company is the mix of people we work with."
Politics are very emotional, Clise reminds us, and most people can't talk politics and stay calm, cool or collected. "Like it or not, others will judge us based on our political beliefs," she says.
It can also be offensive, even deemed harassing, if co-workers plaster their cubicles with campaign posters and continually talk about their political beliefs, she says.
No posters? Ideally, not even a one, Clise says.
But politics are some people's passion, and it's inevitable that, during a presidential election year especially, they find their way into the workplace. Here are some guidelines to follow if you absolutely must stump between 9 and 5 (or whenever you work):
Don't try to engage people in debate. In fact, don't ask people about their personal politics or go around volunteering your own to people who don't ask. If they care, they'll ask. They probably don't, unless they're as passionate as you.
Don't get mad. Let's say there's a friendly election chat over lunch. If it's a mutual exchange, state your point, then allow your co-workers to state theirs. Don't bully, don't get angry, don't raise your voice, and don't let politics affect how you deal with someone professionally.
Don't blast your streaming Mitt Romney stump speeches loud enough for the Obama-lover next door to go deaf. Use the same courtesy as with any media: headphones. And don't exclaim aloud or curse as you listen along.
Leave the donkey suit at home. General rules for work attire apply to campaign-slogan T-shirts, big political buttons and red-white-and-blue elephant hats (just don't).
Know the rules. Many companies have written policies addressing political activities at work, and some even restrict conversation, especially if it's disruptive. Talking politics can impact your reputation and also, in some places, possibly get you disciplined or fired.
If you're pressured to answer a question (say, from a boss or client) about your political leanings, demur. What might seem at first like a friendly inquiry can turn ugly fast, and you don't want people making judgments about you based on your partisan proclivities. If pressed, just draw on your inner politician.
Karen Burns is the author of The Amazing Adventures of Working Girl, a career guide based on her 59 jobs over 40 years in 22 cities.
Kristen Fife is a senior recruiter, career mentor, blogger and resume consultant based in the Seattle area.
Lisa Quast is a certified career coach, mentor, business consultant, former corporate executive and author based in the Seattle area.
Randy Woods writes about job-search tools, networking techniques and other tips to help you land your dream job.
Matt Youngquist is the president of Career Horizons, a career counseling firm.
Natalie Singer is a Seattle writer, editor and small-business owner.
Michelle Goodman is the author of "My So-Called Freelance Life" and "The Anti 9-to-5 Guide."
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