There's nothing wrong with being a political junkie and it's positive to have an interest and opinion in what's happening around you. Political debates can be healthy, lead to innovation and hold circles of friends together. They are also what can tear groups apart, ruin a party and, most relevant to this blog, harm careers.
The Negative Consequences of Talking Politics at Work
Talking politics in the workplace is a slippery slope. In addition to being counter-productive to your actual job, the wrong topic can drive a wedge between colleagues, cause irreparable damage and possibly cost an employee their job.
For independent contractors, it can have even more severe consequences. IT contractors depend on their reputation to ensure regular gigs are coming through the door. Although talking politics with clients and their employees may seem harmless, you may be known as the person who brings a negative atmosphere to the office and sparks too much debate. Furthermore, if you cause enough trouble and break-up a team, that client will never want you back and word will quickly get out to recruiters.
Consider This Before Sparking a Political Discussion
As the introduction to this post notes, some groups of people fair quite well when they find a common ground in politics and the right bond can bring a team closer together. So, while we’re not recommending you never bring it up at work, we encourage you to carefully consider your situation.
First and foremost, know and understand the policies at your client’s site. Respect any rules or requests they may have on the subject of politics at work.
Secondly, know your crowd. If your peers and colleagues involved in the discussion are on the opposite end of the spectrum, or you have no idea where they lie, it may be best to stick to talking about the weather. People are not going to change their opinion simply because you made a valid point, so don’t think this is the time to start bringing them over to your side.
If the Inevitable is Going to Happen
If you must discuss the upcoming election, latest decision by the majority government, or hottest policy change while working, you should at least do it wisely. Never let these discussions get in the way of your own productivity or that of your client’s. If there’s one thing that will lead to a bad review at the end of your project, it’s costing them too much money without enough results.
Next, always be respectful of those with opposing views from yours. Ask questions, learn their perspective and be curious, as opposed to one-sided and confrontational. It’s also wise to avoid the really hot topics (you know what they are) and know when to end a debate before it goes too far and starts causing the damages described above.
Independent contractors have a reputation to uphold if they want to continue working for a specific client or even with a specific recruiter. While being opinionated and informed is a valuable trait, it can also be destructive. Speaking your mind too much while on a project, or even on social networks where recruiters are sure to be looking, can be detrimental to future opportunities.
Do you ever discuss politics at work? If you do, how do you ensure a meaningful conversation? Share your suggestions in the comments below.