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October 4, 2012

Career Coach: You should veto talking politics at work

(Continued)

If you insist on talking about politics at work, here are some tips to think about before jumping into the conversation:

• Consider your audience. Will they be receptive to a political discussion or will they be upset that you brought the whole topic up?

• Think about your purpose. Is it to share your ideas, ask questions about the candidates, or persuade others?

• Consider the setting. Is it a good idea to debate at a company team-building event or an orientation session?

• Don't make assumptions. Politics, like religion, can be very complex. Assuming someone has the same views as you can have repercussions if you think you are speaking to a sympathetic ear.

• Be informed. There's nothing more upsetting than when people get into debates and have little to no information about the issues or candidates' stances.

• Don't goad. If colleagues say they would rather not discuss them, let it go.

• Deflect with good humor. If someone tries to provoke you into a political debate, say something like "Are you kidding, no way am I taking on this conversation.' "

• Don't take it personally. According to a CareerBuilder poll, 23 percent of workers who have discussed politics at work reported having had a heated discussion or fight with a co-worker, supervisor or someone else higher up in the firm.

Employers, too, should be mindful of their responsibility. The Society for Human Resource Management reported that 25 percent of employers maintain written policies on political activities, and some of these involve conversations about politics at work.

One key area of responsiblity is making sure all supervisors are trained in understanding laws regarding harassment, etc. Some conversations about politics can steer into inappropriate (or harassing) comments about gender, race or age, for instance. Or a manager's opinions on a race could be regarded as contributing to an uncomfortable work environment, where employees feel pressured to support this candidate or that.

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