Politics. It was already a taboo subject in offices before November 2016, but with rising tensions across America, it has become an even riskier topic to discuss.
With that said, the current political environment is such that it’s hard to imagine not talking about it at all without burying a part of ourselves. One quick midday trip to social media can result in you wanting—or even needing—to say something aloud to the person who sits next to you.
But even if you work in an office that encourages you to “be yourself” at work and you’re not at risk of losing your job by speaking up, you shouldn’t just assume that it’s a good idea to share your thoughts.
That’s not to say you should stay quiet, but instead ask yourself this critical question first:
Am I assuming that everyone within earshot shares my views?
Frequently, when people share their political views in the office it’s because they feel like it’s safe to. In most cases, that means liberals feeling comfortable speaking up in blue states or cities, and conservatives speaking up in states or districts that are clearly red. If everyone else agrees with you, there’s no risk of being controversial or offensive, right?
Unless you work for a super small company where everyone’s beliefs are out in the open (which is unlikely), there’s a good chance that a number of colleagues disagree with you on at least some (if not all) issues. That guy in accounting who shared that he’s pro-LGBTQ rights may also be pro-life or fiscally conservative. The woman on the sales team in the break room may feel alienated and unwelcome in an office with vocal Trump supporters, and therefore hide her feminist beliefs.
Now, this doesn’t mean that you should go around and quiz your colleagues about what they believe in (really, please don’t do that). What it does mean is that you should be thoughtful when expressing your beliefs, and bringing as much empathy and compassion as you can to the table.
Because even if you disagree with Sheryl’s voting choices—and are maybe even offended by the values you see reflected in her vote—she’s still your co-worker. And as much as you (hopefully) took this job because of the company’s culture and mission, work is not a place that guarantees that everyone’s value system line up perfectly with yours.
In the office, you and your co-workers are a team, bringing your skills and passion to the table each day to make that mission a reality. If you remember that, it’s not hard to also remember that you owe it to your colleagues to be considerate and respectful.
Pretty sure you’re not the person being inconsiderate and disrespectful? Here are some real examples, I’ve heard from well-meaning people:
- A co-worker sharing information about a political event with the full team, assuming everyone would be interested and excited.
- Another co-worker deciding a person didn’t share her beliefs because they did not express interest in attending said event.
- Two colleagues laughing about supporters of a specific presidential candidate around the office coffee machine, unaware that others could hear them.
- A person jumping to conclusions about a co-worker’s policy beliefs based on which candidate they voted for
If you’re in the majority in your office, you may be asking yourself, “So what, I’m clearly in the right and they’re clearly in the wrong.” But that’s a pretty poor defense. Because one day, you’ll be in the minority on an issue and these “innocent” jokes by the coffee machine will make you feel excluded, and possibly unsafe.
So the next time you’re thinking about bringing up that political article you saw on Facebook at work, take a breath, and ask yourself if you’re assuming that everyone around you shares your views. Unless you can 100%, without a doubt, say they do, don’t bring it up.
By pausing and asking yourself this one simple question, you’ll be doing your part to make sure that your office is an inclusive and welcoming environment. And in a culture that’s as divided as ours is now, that’d be doing the right thing—regardless of where you stand.