Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Talking politics at work (when your work isn't politics)

For us faculty, talking politics is what we do. But what about when you're not in a political job? I recall my wife's experience that one of her co-workers had a political bumper sticker in her cubicle; when she questioned its appropriateness, her co-worker replied "but everyone in the office feels that way". Hmm. From Business Week:

...Simply put, we shouldn't discuss politics in the workplace because, with very few exceptions, these discussions have nothing to do with our job and can only interfere with it.

One might conclude that what I am calling for will lead to a chill in the workplace or, worse, a corporate police state in which speech is carefully monitored and wrongful talk is harshly punished. Rather than make a fetish out of what each individual should be allowed to do (or get away with), a more appropriate perspective to take here—and with all issues concerning conduct at work and beyond—is to consider how our actions might adversely affect others and fracture the community of which we are a part. Yes, in the best of circumstances, discussion with people who hold different points of view can lead to greater understanding of beliefs different from one's own. Yes, it may be possible for you and your colleagues to have a civil, respectful conversation at work about the politics of abortion, euthanasia, creationism, the existence of God, your sex life, and your salary.

If you are able to have such polite repartee, you are in the minority. For most people, these kinds of discussions too often degenerate into loud arguments and the conclusion that those on the opposing side of the fence are "idiots." In what sort of business would this kind of behavior promote doing one's job effectively? As engaging as such conversations might be, to what extent will they enhance the ability to carry out one's duties and meet the needs of customers and company alike? More to the point, won't such conversations likely impede the performance of one's assignments?

Read the whole thing here.