Political conversations in the workplace can be productive if conducted correctly

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Clare Sharkey | The Ticker

Angelica Tejada

The workplace can be a great space for talking politics. However, there are limitations and ground rules that employees should follow to stay productive and respectful.

With the stress and importance that is associated with a U.S. presidential election, it’s expected that the topic of politics will come up in conversations with colleagues at work.

In February, a Gartner survey of 500 U.S. employees found that, “78% of employees report discussing politics at work, and 47% report that the U.S. presidential election has impacted their ability to get work done.”

Talking politics, regardless of setting, can go on different routes and take up time. It can go from a friendly conservation to an argument quickly, and even more so if the conversation is occurring between multiple people.

Since more people are working remotely due to the coronavirus pandemic, daily conversations may get more vulnerable and personal than if everyone was working in-person.

“One advantage to being remote is that you have to be really intentional about your conversations,” Roger Brooks, president and CEO of the educational non-profit Facing History and Ourselves, told CNBC Make It. “If you want to have a conversation, you have to go out of your way to have it.”

This added element to the workplace environment can lead to meaningful and productive conversations on politics.

By bringing awareness to different political views and opinions, those in the conversation can begin to learn how to engage with those that have opposite views.

Regardless, some circumstances surround talking politics in the workplace that have to be followed under company rules.

Before engaging or starting a conversation on politics, be sure to know the rules that the company has on any political speech.

“Employers have a lot of latitude to create whatever structures or guidelines that they want to create, and if they want to exclude any political discussion in the workplace they can do that,” Kristin Alden, an employment attorney in Washington, D.C., said to CNN Business.

In the case of uncertainty, it’s best to save the conversation for when the guidelines are known or just not have it at all.

Just as important to be considered are the laws surrounding the discussion of politics in the workplace.

“Furthermore, while workers don’t have a constitutional right to free speech at work (except in the case of government employees who have some protections), workers may have some protections at the state level for political expression and off-duty conduct,” CNBC Make It reported.

When engaging in these conversations, be sure to not attack the person but rather listen and respond to what they’re saying. Once disrespect comes into the conversation, it no longer is productive and will most likely lead to a negative outcome.

At any point where someone says something offensive or personally alarming, it’s best to seek the human resources department at the company for help and guidance.

The goal of talking politics in the workplace should always be to engage in insightful and honest conversations, never to belittle a colleague.