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March 10, 2009

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As the 2008 election gears into full swing, the workplace can start to resemble a blue and red battleground. In many offices, even the boss has no qualms about making his or her political beliefs known. According to a recent Vault survey, 35% of bosses openly share their political views with employees, and 9% of workers feel pressure to conform to the boss' views. Regarding co-workers, 30% of respondents said that a co-worker has tried to influence their choice in an election.

"My boss insisted that he had to know who I voted for in the election," said one survey respondent. "Then he proceeded to tell me that if I didn't vote his way, I had no business working for the company."

With 66% of survey respondents saying that their co-workers candidly discuss politics, and 46% saying they witnessed political arguments between colleagues, the topic can be unavoidable at the office. Here are some tips if you find yourself in the middle of the political maelstrom:

1. Don't feel pressured into sharing your views if you don't want to.

If you'd rather not contribute your thoughts on a particular issue or your choice in an upcoming election, then don't. The pressure of a political share-fest can feel overwhelming, but you can politely excuse yourself from the conversation by saying (with a smile), "Sorry, I'm staying out of this one; my mom/dad/grandma/etc. told me never to talk about politics at work." If that won't fly with the co-workers, there's always the "Got to go - I forgot about those TPS reports that are due" excuse. Then hightail it out of there.

2. Don't try to push your views on your co-workers or employees.

It's great to feel passionate about politics, but your idea of enthusiasm can be someone else's idea of harassment. And the last thing you want is for your co-workers to think you're a big bully about your beliefs. One "Vote for Smith in '08" (note nonthreatening made-up candidate name) sticker at your desk is OK, but handing out petitions is not. You may think you're not pressuring anyone or forcing them to participate, but in your own subtle way you are.

3. Don't assume people feel the same way you do.

The punk rock girl with the nose ring? Definitely a Democrat. That clean-cut guy who always wears a suit? Must be a Republican. Wrong. These are stereotypes, and they are totally and completely unreliable. Don't approach someone and start bashing a candidate or fervently discussing this week's hot-button issue when there is the slightest chance that they may not agree with your point of view. This will make for a very uncomfortable situation for both parties (no pun intended). Which brings us to ...

4. Don't criticize if you don't agree.

If you do discover that someone at work has vastly different political views than you, do not disparage them. This will only make you look like a tyrant who cannot accept any one else's ideas as valid (which you very well may be, but the point is not to show it at the office). In all seriousness, if you find yourself in the middle of a political argument at work, back off as quickly as possible with a simple, "Well I guess we disagree on this, but it's no big deal. It would be silly to let it affect our working relationship." If the exchange becomes heated before you can control the situation you may just have to walk away. Even if you're sure you are right (and of course you are), the workday is not the time and the office is not the place.

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Filed Under: Workplace Issues

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