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Joe Szynkowski: Tips on talking politics at work

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I had an interesting interaction this week. A professional reached out to me via LinkedIn to ask about my resume-writing services.

A high-level financial services executive looking for a change, she had one question for me: “Before we hop onto an introductory phone call, can you tell me if you’re a Republican or Democrat?”

I must have answered correctly because we are now working together on her project, but this was a first for me.

Politics in the workplace is certainly nothing new. I’ve been in team meetings where political viewpoints were tossed around like mini grenades ready to disrupt team culture at a moment’s notice.

But having to explain political leanings prior to entering a contractual agreement?

The experience got me thinking.

Is there a right way to talk politics at the office – or on a Zoom call? Should we be able to express our thoughts without fear of discipline or disrespect?

It’s an interesting conundrum companies and workers have been trying to figure out for decades.

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The Value of Diversity

You’ve surely heard of the new phrase, “bringing your whole self to work.” The idea of letting people be themselves is meant to drive innovation, diversity, and inclusion in the workforce.

How successful companies are at creating such a culture depends on if they actually stick to these people-first principles. Talk is cheap and workers aren’t putting up with fickle leadership anymore. There are too many opportunities to work with leaders who operate with their employees top of mind.

Leaders who claim to be champions of diversity but then ask employees to avoid talking politics are setting themselves up for failure.

Turning a Blind Eye

Companies need to play a bigger role in allowing for respectful, open dialogues on all topics – even politics. Why? Because we are naïve to think that political discussions aren’t already happening at work.

According to a recent survey by the Society for Human Resource Management, more than half of working Americans say discussion of political issues has become more common over the past four years. The majority reported having had at least one political disagreement at work.

The same SHRM survey found that employees feel insecure talking about these issues at work. Other results included more than one-third saying their workplace is not inclusive about differing political opinions, and one in 10 saying they have experienced differential treatment because of political views.

Finding Common Ground

If you’re leading a team, make it clear that your employees do not have to support your political candidate of choice during campaign season.

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People who express different views than yours shouldn’t fluster or intimidate you. Make sure your workers know you’re approachable and happy to discuss all types of viewpoints. 

As adults, we have to get past the idea that there is no middle ground. Even my kids know the value of compromise, sharing, and respect.

This brings me back to my aforementioned client. My answer to her question actually conflicted with her political beliefs. But the way I responded opened the door for a healthy, respectful conversation.

I did have some advice for her after she expressed genuine astonishment by her recent struggles to get past the first round of interviews.

We’re now working on crafting a softer introduction.

Joe Szynkowski is the happy founder and owner of The UpWrite Group, a small local firm that has offered corporate communications, personal branding, public relations, and ghostwriting services since 2008. Email for more information.


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