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Navigating Discomfort at Work

How to deal with political dialogue at the office.

Key points

  • Everyone deserves to feel protected at work.
  • It is the responsibility of the boss to promote a safe and inviting environment.
  • Employees should stay out of dialogue that makes them uncomfortable and focus on the task at hand

The office should be a safe place, where people feel comfortable escaping from everyday dialogue to focus on work-related tasks. Unfortunately, this is not always the case.

Sometimes, political dialogue takes over previous water cooler chitchat. That’s fine when you are on the same page politically—if you feel like having the dialogue. But, for those who disagree, some fear that they cannot share their opinion without being attacked by the other camp. And sitting out quietly can be just as uncomfortable, especially when the primary socializers are spending their time talking politics.

A Safe Space

It is up to the boss to create this safe haven and to lead the way by focusing only on issues related to work. It’s one thing to have a policy about a “safe space.” It is the leader’s job to demonstrate through example by acting with kindness toward all and by embracing diverse people, ideas, and thoughts in the workplace.

Don’t Participate

The best way to handle unwanted political talk in the office is to avoid it. We need to distinguish between personal relationships and work-related relationships. While it may be nice to have friends who share similar hobbies and political interests, that is not a necessity in the workplace. It is better to wow a boss, colleague, and recruiter with a superb work-related track record than it is to agree (or disagree) with their respective political stance.

  • If the boss brings it up in the workplace, simply state, “I’d much rather talk about this upcoming deliverable. I really want to wow our client.”
  • If you disagree with a coworker, keep that opinion to yourself. Don’t jump on the bandwagon and agree with your colleagues just to fit in. Rather, excuse yourself and get back to work. “I have to prepare for that big meeting this afternoon. See you later!”
  • If a recruiter mentions it in a job interview, say, “I prefer to keep my political opinions private. However, I am very happy to talk about [insert something about your work experience].”

Itching to Leave?

If your workplace culture is not the right fit, but you can’t move on quite yet, think of your job as a means to an end. The final goal is to get a new job in the coming months.

In the meanwhile, your goal is to gain as much knowledge and experience as possible so that you may best market yourself for future job opportunities. If you feel smothered by your immediate boss, perform your job tasks with quality, but also volunteer to help other leaders in other channels of the organization with any special projects. You will appear as a team player and gain additional experience to add to your resume. You may even get the chance to move laterally within the organization.

The potential for other opportunities within and outside of your organization increases exponentially when others know of you and your skillset. You can show loyalty to your current role and organization and still grow your network on social networking sites like LinkedIn. Remain positive, don’t try to change what you can’t, but be proactive with your choices so that you may ultimately achieve the end result that you want and need for your career.

Copyright© 2021 Amy Cooper Hakim