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October 4, 2012

Career Coach: You should veto talking politics at work

What a great time of the year to teach leadership. As it gets closer and closer to election time, leaders take center stage in the news, in debates and on the campaign trail.

Whether it's the presidential race or local races, there are many great (and not so great) examples of important leadership attributes on display, qualities such as charisma, inspiration, emotional intelligence, empathy and decisiveness. I love facilitating these discussions, whether at a corporate client site, with an executive I am coaching, or in a business classroom.

But talking politics can be awkward at times. This year at the Robert H. Smith School of Business, one of our executive MBA students is a close relative of a vice presidential candidate. Fellow students and faculty may be a little more guarded so as not to indicate whether they are Republican, Democrat or independent.

It can be particularly tricky in the workplace, where such conversations can lead to conflicts among colleagues, getting them distracted from their duties and leading to major rifts among co-workers. This is even true for co-workers who are voting for the same candidates. They still might disagree about specific ballot issues.

A recent CareerBuilder poll found that 42 percent of people said they don't talk about politics at the office, while 44 percent said they talk about it, but shut down the conversation when it gets heated. Only 14 percent said they enjoyed discussing politics and having a lively debate at work.

Generally, talking about politics at work is not a good idea. It is seen as problematic as talking about religion, money and sex. Such topics tend to be irrelevant to the work at hand, and the conversations can trigger major clashes and bad feelings. Being tactful and sensitive to others' views is a sign of good emotional intelligence, and is important to maintain morale and a respectful workplace that values everyone.

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