August 9, 2016

An Office Guide to Surviving the Presidential Campaign

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If there is one thing that we can all seem to agree on regarding this year’s presidential election cycle, it’s that it’s not boring—and news coverage is everywhere.

Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton dominate the news cycle 24/7. Facebook is overrun with memes, links, clips and opinions. Twitter is filled with political punditry and regular tweets from both candidates.

And almost everyone has a strong opinion. A very strong opinion.

Even with more than 90 days to go before the election, it’s virtually impossible to avoid talk of presidential politics, whether in casual social conversation or in the workplace—and that’s where things can get very sticky.

Sure, you can try to tune out or ignore talk of the election altogether, but that seems unrealistic given the heated political climate.

What do you do when you support one candidate but your manager or co-worker supports the other? Or, how about if all your colleagues support Clinton, for example, and you are for Trump? And what if one of your clients makes disparaging remarks about the candidate for whom you plan to vote? (Or worse, what if you’re the one making the disparaging remark and the client disagrees with you?!)

As owners of a company, it would be easy for us to make a blanket “no-politics in the office” ruling, but that is impractical in today’s media dominated world. But we do try our best. As our employee handbook states:

 … it is impossible to ignore the hype and hoopla surrounding an election cycle. That said, …we respect that everyone is entitled to his or her own opinions, and as such, we believe that we should avoid heated, controversial or partisan political debates … in the office. Any conversation … should be civil. Please refrain from heated conversations or from promoting any candidates in the common areas.

But the truth is, if we can’t avoid political conversation while dining with friends, on vacation, or at virtually any public venue, how can we avoid it in an office that specializes in generating publicity for financial and professional services clients on national news shows? Our office has four TVs playing various news channels all day. And coverage of the election is usually controversial and the discourse isn’t always civil.

Obviously, we don’t want confrontations at the water cooler nor do we want to create a work environment where people aren’t allowed to express their opinions.

It would be nice to imagine that we could all have stimulating and healthy discussions about plans to grow the economy, America’s role in the world and the like, but given the rough and tumble nature of political discourse today and the tone of the news coverage, that’s a bit much to hope for this year. As we just witnessed during both parties’ conventions, the name-calling and invective—on both sides—is at a level never before seen in a modern presidential election. It seems like we are living in a really long episode of House of Cards.

That said, here are a few guidelines to help you and your colleagues get through the 2016 campaign—without the divisiveness that seems to afflict much of the current political discussion:

1) It’s best to avoid political conversations altogether; or at the very least, if you find yourself in such a conversation, try to be ambiguous about who you are voting for. It’s hard to do, but definitely possible. Tell your colleagues that you would rather not engage in a political conversation at work. Some of your clients or co-workers may think you’re boring or wimping out, but ultimately most of them will respect you for it.

2) If you can’t avoid the conversation, or your colleague or client feels a need to express a preference for one candidate, remember that everyone is entitled to his or her own opinion. You don’t have to agree, but you have to respect that right. After all, most of us are professionals living in the real world and not debating policy on “Meet the Press.”

3) If you know with 100% certainty that the person you are speaking with agrees with you, then feel free to speak quietly amongst yourselves; or better yet, go out to lunch or for coffee, BUT…

4) … If there are more than two people in the conversation, keep it on a higher level. That quiet person sitting over there just might be afraid to share his or her thoughts because they are on “the other side.” If you do find yourself expressing political views, strive to do it in a measured and non-inflammatory way.

5) If someone tries to goad you into a political discussion, use a technique that we try to teach our clients: it’s called “blocking and bridging.” For example: if someone expresses a strong opinion about a candidate’s policies, fitness for office or veracity, you can counter with “they both obviously have their challenges, and it’s going to be interesting to see how things play out.” And then move on to a discussion about a client.

6) Finally, remember, even if we disagree on candidates, we can all agree on something else, like which local bar has the best selection of tap beer, which pizza place is the best, or who is the coolest character on Game of Thrones. Well, maybe we won’t agree on those things either, but we can at least have a polite and friendly discussion.

Yes, we do seem to be going through a difficult period right now, both in the U.S. and abroad—and the presidential noise is growing louder each day. However, no matter who wins the election, we still have to work together so let’s be civil and remain friends. That seems to be good business.

By: Richard Dukas and Gail Katz Dukas