Partisan Politics and Your Career

I don’t put political signs in  my yard anymore, though yesterday I almost did; it can be tempting.  I feel pretty strongly about most of the political races underway this year and this time around; sometimes I can’t help it, and I comment about one candidate or another.  But I don’t actually recommend that.

If you are in an active job search, building a network, or are in a service profession seeking new clients, or in a job where you serve or supervise lots of people who might feel differently than you do, my advice is to find ways to avoid discussion about your politics, your vote,  or your preferred candidates.  Politics has become a bit like religion for many people; don’t go there hoping to make converts.  Don’t go there at all.

Three important points (maybe Four):

First, it won’t help you to take a conversation in the direction of any candidate’s prospects unless the candidate is you.

Second, it isn’t anyone’s business how you plan to vote.  Secret. Ballot.  Contributions, on the other hand, may be more available to others; remember that.

Third, you don’t really want to adopt anyone else’s brand–or be drawn into making yours about your political preferences.  In career world, things are usually about style, grace, and the effectiveness of the work or work product.  Don’t undermine any of that by taking strong positions in conversations where you are not prepared and may be ambushed.

Fourth, and it must be said, if you are who you are and you lead with your political opinion at all times and are prepared for the consequences of that–no, you welcome the outcomes–then this blogpost is not for you.

It’s (usually) not too hard to avoid workplaces or individuals who have strong partisan views; the leaders often advance a point of view early on and secure information about your own views if they can.  In those places, it may be important to have a high tolerance for or be in complete agreement with the dominant worldview.  But, if you are not sure, or if you are game for just waiting out the season, here are a few ways to avoid confrontation, challenge, and the ending of a friendship before it begins.  It is not wrong to keep your opinion to yourself. Ever. Especially if you do not want to be quoted.

1.  “I think I am still undecided, what do you think?”  Prepare to listen, nod, and at some point, thank your advisor for generously sharing his or her views.  Every thought in your head need not emerge from your mouth or keyboard. Practice restraint and respect for another’s desire to speak.  This does take practice.  Even if you are in agreement, you may not want to be named as a supporter in the next round.

2.  “I’ve already voted and I like to keep my vote secret, out of respect for others’ views.”  This is only if you actually did vote early; it’s not worth lying about your vote.  Especially if you show up on election day with a sticker that says “I voted.” Be consistent; if you tell one person, you might as well tell the whole office.  Do not ever say “Don’t tell so and so.”  It’s just silly.

3.  As regards the candidates who will be debating–“I am waiting for the debates; the campaign advertising is just so difficult to listen to.” Change the subject to vitriolic advertising campaigns; everybody hates those, but don’t give specific examples.

4.  “I think there is merit to both  points of view–we live in such challenging times.”  Then shake your head and keep shaking it.  As your acquaintance adds more fuel, say “This is what I mean–really challenging, don’t you agree?”

5.  “How do you make up your mind in challenging times like these?  Do you favor one commentator or opinion columnist over the others? Who do you listen to?”

6.  ” I understand both sides, I think.  I just haven’t picked one to vote for.  I have so much respect for your opinion, though, thanks.”

7.  Take a page from politicians, all of them, and simply say something that is off the subject but on your own mind.  “Where did you get those shoes?!”  “My husband says we have successfully defeated the crabgrass this year.  Finally.”  “How about those Rays?” “What do you think we should put on the agenda for the staff meeting?”  Unapologetically, because your point is being made gently.  No one needs to be embarrassed.   If your political stalker says that you didn’t hear what he or she said or asked, it is okay to say that you did, but the shoes, crabgrass, Rays, or agenda are what’s on your mind.  Unapologetically.

I admit to having strong opinions about a lot of things, and one of them is that being in the ideological minority in a workplace is very painful if the majority makes it a “thing.”  I am not fond of bullies.  But I don’t like to find myself bullying back, accidentally.  Style, grace, charm, effective work product, and good humor–and preparation for protecting yourself and your personal brand can take you a very long way, whether the subject is politics or anything else you don’t want to talk about.

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