Talking Politics – Taboos in the Workplace

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When it comes to the workplace, certain things are just not appropriate to talk about. You don’t even have to be told what’s off limits for chatter, you just know. To talk about these topics could actually put your career in jeopardy. At work, we know to never talk about three things:

  1. Sex. No one wants to know anything about your experiences or lack thereof.  Whether bragging or complaining, there is no interest.
  2. Religion. You could be devout or an atheist. You could worship one god or the ones that lurk in the bottom of a Pringles can; religious beliefs are a personal matter and can cause coworkers to avoid you or worse.
  3. Compensation. We don’t want to know that you don’t make enough money and you were screwed in the last round of bonuses. If it’s so bad, it just might be time to move on. Discussing compensations might run counter to company policy and get you fired, which might create other issues regarding compensation.

Sex, religion and pay have always been the Big Three taboo subjects to talk about at work. Now, like never before, there is a new one: Politics.

The discussion of political views was always a borderline taboo. Radical views from any standpoint were never welcome and proselytizing was and still is forbidden, as it should be. Any real crazy views that would disrupt getting things done at work have never been tolerated. But in the past it was OK to have reasoned discussions. In fact, discussions were often welcomed. Companies would welcome candidates to tour facilities and sometimes even sponsor debates. Margaret Thatcher visiting Ronald Reagan at the White House could be an entertaining discussion topic over coffee. Not too long ago, the debate about a new law or policy could get heated, but in the end, it’s back to work with colleagues. No more.

Unless you work at home by yourself, the environment today does not lend itself to any discussion of politics while at work.  Politics and political leaders are now taboo topics. The topics are just too hot and emotionally charged to discuss and then just settle back into the cubicle. Forget policy and international views, even raising topics tangential to real politics like wardrobes and alma maters can lead down a path of emotion and problems.

You may think everyone agrees with you because you know you are right and everyone must and should agree. They don’t.  You might not hear anything right away about your opinions because so many just don’t want to engage or fight. Make it easy for them by leaving your opinions in the parking lot.

When a political subject is broached, I have heard people interject a comment like, “How about those new pizzas in the cafeteria?” Changing the subject is the goal. And at a time when there is a debate about what’s true and what’s not true, it’s safer to debate the product launch schedule than it is to get into political leadership qualities.

Never lose your passion. Never lose your commitment for doing the right thing. Never give up on inclusion. Keep making a difference, but as a discussion topic at work, politics are taboo. We may not like it because what happens in the political world can change our lives. But no matter how right you are. No matter that all of your friends feel just the same way. No matter that it’s only a matter or time before everyone agrees with you. For a better work environment, it’s best to keep your political passions out of the workplace.

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