If you thought the last four years was difficult trying to keep politics out of the workplace, get ready for the next few months. The race to the November election is heating up, and you can bet that discussions about politics will bleed over into the workplace, especially online if your employees are still working remotely.
What’s more, is that even if you manage to successfully avoid those dreaded political discussions with your colleagues, it may very well still come up with customers, vendors and especially when you least expect it.
Discussions about politics in the workplace have proven to reduce productivity, decrease quality, increase difficulty in getting work done on time, increase negative views of coworkers, add to job stress, and make employees dread coming to work even if that’s working virtually.
Talking politics at work equals a toxic work environment. If you think you’re safe because you don’t see people face-to-face right now and are working from home, think again. Political talk can easily invade the online workspace, too.
Here are five ways you can keep political talk (and tempers) in check at work during this election season.
Establish ground rules
Some companies will decide to implement a ‘political free work zone’ and take this very seriously whether in-person or working online. The other way to approach it is for a company to make a statement about the general discourse about what is playing out in the political field. Let everyone know it’s ok to have emotions about what is taking place, but not to lose site of the greater picture of the business, your team members and customers. It’s a decision that each company will have to make for itself.
Separate your online personal and professional life
At some point, a coworker or customer may very well check you out on social media. If you are someone who tends to post your political views online, or talk about other controversial topics, consider adding some form of privacy settings such as only allowing your direct connections to be able to see your content, or going private altogether. Remember that anything you post to social media always has the potential of being discovered by others. Be smart about what you post and remember: sometimes it’s best just to remain quiet.
Don’t fan the flames
A lot of business is being done on Zoom calls, but don’t let your guard down because you never know when someone might start talking about politics. If the tone of the conversation starts to rise, it’s time to end things. Acknowledge what the other person is saying, make a vague comment, and then change the subject to a work-related topic. This allows you to acknowledge a differing point of view while keeping things civil and professional, and agreeing to disagree.
Keep your background professional
When talking to coworkers, managers or customers on Zoom or Skype, remember that with these video platforms not only can they see you, but they can see your background. Keep it professional. Reframe from backgrounds that display political banners or pictures. Keep attire professional and avoid political shirts, hats and buttons that can start a confrontation.
It’s always your right to decline comment
If a coworker or customer really pushes you to discuss politics even in an online setting, remember that it is always your right to not comment. Simply say, “I’d rather not discuss my political views at this time. I wish you the best with your political decisions.” Or, “I’m still evaluating the issues and would rather focus on getting the best results on this project.” Always remain calm and don’t lose your cool even if they push you to discuss.
Find common ground if you do discuss
There is always a common ground in politics. You just have to find it and focus on it. Even coworkers with differing political views can find topics they see eye-to-eye on. If you do decide to engage in political talk, even in an online setting, focus more on the topics you agree on and avoid the areas you completely disagree on for another forum outside of work.
The dreaded anticipation of talking politics at work can leave us all feeling more than a little unprepared. However, handling political talk isn’t something businessowners and leaders need to be afraid of. With a little preparation ahead of time and a plan to disarm the situation if needed, you can rest easy that this time leading up to the November election can go smoothly.
The reality is political conversations are an inevitable part of life. At the end of the day, remember what’s most important: coming to work should feel like choosing to be part of a team—not picking a side.
Angela Civitella is a business leadership coach and founder of Intinde.