Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Political questions to avoid at work

This timely column comes from author and business etiquette expert Barbara Pachter, who has penned several business books, including NewRules@Work: 79 Etiquette Tips, Tools, and Techniques to Get Ahead and Stay Ahead (which I blogged about earlier this year) ($13.95, paperback, Prentice Hall Press) and When The Little Things Count: And They Always Count ($13.95, paperback, Marlowe & Co.)

She specializes in business etiquette and communication. Her client list features major organizations worldwide, including Microsoft, Pfizer, Chrysler and Genentech.

If you're tired of the constant political commentary everywhere you go this presidential election year, including work, read on:

With the presidential election in less than four weeks, it can be tempting to get into political discussions at work. What is the harm in admitting who you think should win the election or giving your opinion about post-war Iraq? It is just your opinion after all. Right?

“Yes, it is tempting, but don’t do it!” advises business etiquette expert Barbara Pachter, author of The Power of Positive Confrontation ($14.95 paperback, Marlowe & Co.). “When it comes to politics, people have strong opinions. Political discussions can quickly and easily escalate into arguments, sometimes heated ones. You may say something that insults your co-worker, boss or customer.

Yet, Pachter acknowledges, in today’s super-charged political climate, it is easy to want to know your colleagues’ opinions. But, if you think of the consequences of discussing the following questions, you may not ask them.

1. “Who are you going to vote for?”
Do not ask this question! You may get an answer you did not expect or want. Your opinion of that person can be altered, often negatively, if he or she is not voting for your candidate.

2. “Who do you think won the debate?”
You and your colleague may have very different opinions about who answered the questions effectively or who looked good behind the podium. Arguing the points will usually not resolve them. If a colleague keeps pushing his/her opinion, you can say, “Let’s agree to disagree.”

3. “How can you possibly vote for____?”
Asking this question is not just commenting on the person’s choice, it is putting the person down. Discussions can quickly become ugly after that!

4. “Don’t you think the candidate’s stance on ______ is outrageous?
Using strong negative language to discuss an issue can become fighting words to people. If you want to comment on an issue, a better way to word your disagreement is, “I disagree with the candidate’s position on _____because of_____.”

Others may ask these questions of you to draw you into a political discussion. Remember you don’t have to answer every question asked of you. Quickly excuse yourself or change the topic. You can also be assertive and politely tell the person, “I’m uncomfortable discussing this at work. Let’s get back to business.”


For a free copy of Pachter's e-newsletter, “Competitive Edge,” call (856) 751-6141 or go to www.pachter.com.

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