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The Perils of Politics at Work

By Dr. Woody Woodward Ph.D. Columns FOXBusiness

Indian employees at a call centre provide service support to international customers, in the southern city of Bangalore March 17, 2004. The hiring frenzy at call centres in India is the flip side of daily tales pouring out of the US and Britain, ... where thousands of software and back-office jobs are being cut as companies take advantage of cheap communications offshore to drive down costs. India is the undisputed leader of emerging markets to which developed economies are outsourcing high-technology jobs, IT consultancy firm Gartner said in a report released on Wednesday. The $3.6 billion industry in India is seen rocketing to 13.8 billion by 2007 with the number of jobs quadrupling to 1 million. Picture taken March 17, 2004. REUTERS/Sherwin Crasto SC/ (Reuters)

When it comes to topics of conversation, every workplace has its own sets of norms and standards for what’s taboo or off limits. For many offices, politics is on the list. But with less than a month from Election Day and a heated presidential debate, the topic seems unavoidable.

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Conversations regarding politics can be appropriate in the workplace but the key is to keep emotions out of the talks and manage emotions. If you have strong political views, you have to be careful about how passionately you express them in the workplace.  Whenever you forcefully express a strong opinion you run the risk of appearing dogmatic and inflexible, which can leave looking like not a team player--a cardinal sin in any organization.

When politics sneak into the conversation at work, here three tips for keeping the conversation appropriate:

Set boundaries.  You need to set boundaries with your co-workers so they know what is off limits to prevent being dragged into unwanted conversations. When colleagues start proselytizing their politics, you need to nip it in the bud to avoid getting dragged into the conversation. When the conversation makes the turn, gracefully duck out of the discussion and let participants know you are not comfortable talking politics at the office. If you let people know what types of topics you are and are not willing to discuss, it helps set the boundaries of your relationship and keep them from being crossed. 

Keep your passion in check. Passion is a double-edged sword. True enthusiasm for a cause can be a powerful motivator for affecting change, but when it goes too far you can inflict serious and unnecessary damage to relationships.  We are all victims of living in our own heads and passion is often a barrier to rational thought. When you allow your passions to control the conversation you become blind to other perspectives.  

Success at work is all about building relationships and pushing your political positions can create discomfort in the office, which can lead to people withdrawing and you becoming isolated. Once you become isolated, your days are numbered. Quite simply, if you want to climb the ladder, you need to make more friends than enemies. 

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Focus on Your Job. We all have our opinions on who should be in the White House, but when you are at the workplace or on the job you are being compensated by your employer to execute an assigned set of tasks, not campaign for your party. Getting your job done should be your primary goal when you are the clock, and if talking politics gets in the way of that goal, you are failing to keep your end of the bargain.    

Political discourse in this country has become so tainted with finger pointing and inflammatory language that it’s become nearly impossible for individuals with opposing views to have reasonable and dispassionate conversations about politics. Unless political decisions are core to your day-to-day business functions, it’s best to keep the chatter to a minimum and focus on the job.

Michael “Dr. Woody” Woodward, PhD is a CEC certified executive coach trained in organizational psychology. Dr. Woody is author of The YOU Plan: A 5-step Guide to Taking Charge of Your Career in the New Economy and is the founder of Human Capital Integrated (HCI), a firm focused on management and leadership development. Dr. Woody also sits on the advisory board of the Florida International University Center for Leadership.Follow Dr. Woody on Twitter and Facebook