The doors opened and Marcus stepped aboard the elevator, which was almost full of people from the Government Sales conference on 12. The elevator people were all laughing for some reason. The doors closed and Marcus called across to nobody in particular, "Three, please."
"Are you sure?" The question came from someone on the other side of the elevator.
"Pretty sure," Marcus replied. Weird question, he thought.
"Because if you're sure, you might be the only person in this whole state who's sure where he's going, and it definitely disqualifies you for Governor." Laughs from most of the elevator.
That was enough for Marcus. "On second thought, punch Five for me will ya?" Gales of laughter now.
Marcus didn't really want to get off at Five, but the elevator's Weirdness Quotient was over his limit. He wondered what they'd been serving on breaks at the G-Sales conference.
It's usually wise to
resist the temptation
to discuss national
or world politics
at workWorkplace politics is bad enough, but how do we handle non-workplace politics at work? 2004 is a presidential election year in the US, and because our voters are sharply divided about almost everything, the temptation to discuss politics at work is strong. In most cases, it's wise to resist the temptation.
Discussions of governmental politics might be appropriate in some workplaces, such as the offices of political campaigns. But unless your organization's mission is intimately intertwined with governmental politics, raising political topics in the workplace can be risky to you and to the enterprise.
Political discussions at work — even between friends — can expose sharp differences about issues irrelevant to the work, which can create obstacles that make harmonious cooperation more difficult. Why risk it?
Here are some tips for handling situations that involve non-workplace politics.
- Avoid joking about divisive issues
- Assume that everyone in the room disagrees with you. If someone else jokes politically, limit your laughter — you never know whether or not your laughing will offend someone.
- Excuse yourself if you can
- If the conversation turns political, politely excuse yourself if you can, and find something else to do. If you can't leave, keep mum. If you can't keep mum, keep as mum as possible.
- Waltz past outrageous assertions or innuendos
- The more inflammatory barbs and taunts are traps. Walk around them. That's what Marcus did by getting off at Five.
- Decline requests for money or volunteers
- If someone at work asks you to volunteer to work on, or to donate money to a political campaign, decline politely. Depending upon the circumstances, such requests are often illegal. Company policy probably forbids such requests by supervisors. Check with HR.
Certain kinds of comments are usually safe. For instance, non-partisan jokes about Congress, in the tradition of Mark Twain, seem to be just fine, except if you work in Congress. No, wait, joking about Congress is OK even if you do work in Congress. Just stay out of the elevators. Top Next Issue
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More articles on Ethics at Work:
- When You're Scared to Tell the Truth
- In the project context, we need to know that whatever we're hearing from colleagues is the truth as
they see it. Yet, sometimes we shade the truth, or omit important details. Here's a list of some of
the advantages of telling the truth.
- Workplace Politics vs. Integrity
- A reader wrote recently of wanting to learn "to effectively participate in office politics without
compromising my integrity." It sometimes seems that those who succeed in workplace politics must
know how to descend to the blackest depths, and still sleep at night. Must we abandon our integrity
to participate in workplace politics?
- Currying Favor
- The behavior of the office kiss-up drives many people bats. It's more than annoying, though —
it does real harm to the organization. What is the behavior?
- Virtual Termination with Real Respect
- When we have to terminate someone who works at a remote site, sometimes there's a temptation to avoid
travel — to use email, phone, fax, or something else. They're all bad ideas. Terminating people
in person is not only a gesture of respect. It's good business.
- Devious Political Tactics: A Field Manual
- Some practitioners of workplace politics use an assortment of devious tactics to accomplish their ends.
Since most of us operate in a fairly straightforward manner, the devious among us gain unfair advantage.
Here are some of their techniques, and some suggestions for effective responses.
See also Ethics at Work for more related articles.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming April 25: Narcissistic Behavior at Work: VI
- Narcissistic behavior at work distorts decisions, disrupts relationships, and generates toxic conflict. These consequences limit the ability of the organization to achieve its goals. In this part of our series we examine the effects of exploiting others for personal ends. Available here and by RSS on April 25.
- And on May 2: Narcissistic Behavior at Work: VII
- Narcissistic behavior at work prevents trusting relationships from developing. It also disrupts existing relationships, and generates toxic conflict. One class of behaviors that's especially threatening to relationships is disregard for the feelings of others. In this part of our series we examine the effects of that disregard. Available here and by RSS on May 2.
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- The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power
- Many people who possess real organizational power have a characteristic demeanor. It's the way they project their presence. I call this the power affect. Some people — call them power pretenders — adopt the power affect well before they attain significant organizational power. Unfortunately for their colleagues, and for their organizations, power pretenders can attain organizational power out of proportion to their merit or abilities. Understanding the power affect is therefore important for anyone who aims to attain power, or anyone who works with power pretenders. Read more about this program.