How Do You Address Political Issues in an Apolitical Office?

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Dear Miriam,

I work in a completely apolitical office doing an apolitical job, but I find myself at work thinking about politics all the time these days. How can I appropriately interact with my co-workers and keep going about my business when I’m consumed with so many other concerns?

Signed,

Silently Political

Dear Political,

Much of America is consumed with thinking about politics in some form or another lately, and I’m sure you have company at work. While you are sitting at your desk all day thinking about politics and secretly checking your favorite real news site, it’s totally plausible that your co-workers are doing the same thing.

If the climate of the office is not to talk about things other than work, that can be both a blessing and a curse, as you would likely prefer not to be forced into a political discussion with someone who disagrees with you, especially these days. But it can be lonely to catch sight of some developing news story during work hours and not have any outlet for sharing your outrage or concern.

Perhaps there’s a way to feel out a couple of co-workers with whom you already have some friendly relationship. You could say something like, “Did you hear that story on NPR this morning on the way to work about…” or, “What’s your take on…” or even, “Have you had any luck getting through to your representatives this week?” If your opener is met with blank stares or statements you don’t identify with, you haven’t really lost anything, and you can change the subject quickly to save face. But, if you find a couple of sympathetic co-workers, it might make you feel much more connected and less alone at work.

Also, as much as you feel your work is apolitical, it’s possible that there are political ramifications that might allow you to make connections between your work, your co-workers and current events. If you work in the legal, medical or educational fields, there have been plenty of politics related to your work lately. If you do anything related to government regulations or for an organization that receives federal funding, same thing. Perhaps finding connections between your work and politics will give you an entry point to talk to co-workers. You might even feel better just by making these associations for yourself.

Finally, I want to encourage you to define more broadly exactly what it means to be political right now. Certainly, there’s a context for everything, but there’s no reason to force yourself into silence because you’re afraid of appearing overtly political when the things you’re really concerned about are matters of health, happiness and human decency.

Be well,

Miriam

1 COMMENT

  1. Totally disagree with you on this issue. Politics has no place in the workplace. People have differing views on things — be it politics, religion, life values, how money should be spent, the raising of children, etc., and the easiest way to stir up unrest and trouble in an office is to start discussing these issues. As a matter of fact I, as an employee, would find it a form of harassment, particularly if done by someone in a higher position or even if a group of people working at the same level were to start a group discussion in my presence where I might have a difference of opinion.

    You are walking into trouble advising this Miriam, and I would be the first to go to HR to have this stopped immediately.

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