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Front Page - Friday, January 22, 2021

Career Corner: Discussing politics at work can lead to divided house

This week is a big one as the president will leave office as another in inaugurated. The transition of power in the United States has been quite a complicated matter.

The attack on the Capitol has dominated your news feed in recent weeks. And, if you’re like many people, work can provide a much-needed break and distraction from our political stress.

At work, colleagues come from many different backgrounds. This diverse workforce is part of what helps make companies successful. That said, you know your co-workers through the lens of the workplace. At home, co-workers may have very different views on topics such as money, religion and, yes, politics.

As you work this week, I would encourage you to keep in mind that those co-workers you respect for their work may have different views than yours. Discussing politics, the transition of power or the recent events at the U.S. Capital with colleagues is risky.

This may sound counterintuitive, as you may have views that feel very straightforward to you. However, in order for these conversations to have a positive impact, a number of things must be in place. The person must share your views. You must communicate in a way that is clear and easy to understand. The person must be open to hearing your message. They must receive the message in the way you intended it.

You likely agree there are a number of dependencies that are required for things to go well. And, if they go badly, there is potential for them to go very badly. Your colleagues may have hurt feelings. These issues are big. Their significance has a magnified impact this week. If the conversation goes badly, it has the potential to negatively change your relationship permanently.

Avoiding the topic of politics with co-workers is a better bet in January. Think of it like attending a dinner party. You often don’t know others at the dinner party well and might not have any other common connection.

The same goes for work. Co-workers, like your dining partners, might have very different views on money, religion and politics.

The one exception to this suggestion is in the event that you work for an organization that is centered on common beliefs. For example, some organizations share their religious or political views up front. Employees know in advance that their co-workers will likely share the same views outside of the workplace.

The upcoming weeks will be difficult. We will be inundated in news related to the presidential inauguration and the transition of power. If it helps to discuss these topics with others, identify a friend or family member who is outside of work that you can call. The political stress we are facing is temporary, but your job is permanent. Be careful with your words this month, and you will increase the likelihood of political peace at work.

Angela Copeland, a career expert and founder of Copeland Coaching, can be reached at copelandcoaching.com.