One of the more interesting moments in my transition from developer to manager was when, in a training class, an honest instructor said, “If you don’t want to see office politics, you shouldn’t become a manager.” I always thought I wasn’t one for office politics, but I was beginning to get dragged into them as an individual contributor, so I realized it was a non-issue for me.
But I’m not here to talk about that kind of office politics. I’m here to talk about politics in the office. Well, politics, religion, and whether you prefer waffles to pancakes. You know, the hard questions. I recently saw a discussion sparked by an employee who felt “harassed” by having unpopular political views criticized by others at the workplace.
I have seen this myself — watched as someone had his political stance mocked at the lunch table. Some of it was in good fun, but when you’re outnumbered 5 to 1, maybe the good fun is in the eyes of the majority. I’ve also seen some reckless behavior on the part of people who assumed their audience was in line with them on the issues. I’ve always cringed when someone mercilessly mocks a politician, assuming everyone in earshot feels the same way. Even if I agree with the opinion, I’ve often played devil’s advocate, hoping to minimize the marginalization someone in the audience might feel. Of course, this brings about its own troubles. So maybe the safest option is silence?
Maybe not. I’ve had some excellent conversations at work with people who brought politically and religiously diverse views to the table. I enjoy these discussions; in fact, I hate empty political talks (where the entire group expresses the same outrage at some other group) and prefer interesting ones (where people share openly and honest interest is shown in opposing viewpoints). What’s the point in valuing diversity if we can’t talk about the things that make us diverse?
As with most things in life, I say moderation is key. Know your audience, temper your posture, and never make it personal. If necessary, save the lunch table for complaining about the cafeteria food, and chat about real issues on your own dime.
How about you?