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Workplace Civility

The author of "Choosing Civility" pens some dos and don'ts of political discussion in the workplace.

Monday, September 1, 2008
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Elections come and go, but your co-workers remain.

Employees should ask themselves if they want to risk making their co-workers a casualty of an election year.

The bottom line is, do not argue. No matter what the circumstances are, do not engage in an argument. Disclose, if you wish, discuss, debate, but stop short of arguing.

If a discussion escalates into an argument, employees end up saying and doing things they will regret. We may prevail upon the other person now, but lose his or her good disposition towards us forever.

Never argue, was Dale Carnegie's advice, because if you lose, you lose, and if you win, you lose.

With that as the guiding rule, here are some pointers for the workplace, depending on whether employees are "game" to engage in political conversation or not:

If You Are Game

1. Respect the preference of your co-workers who are not.

2. Do not spend an inordinate amount of company time on it.

3. Being game means you are willing to talk politics, it does not mean that you must disclose your political allegiance even if you prefer not to.

4. Listen to all opinions respectfully and remain clear-headed throughout the exchange.

5. If your opponent is out of line, say: "You know, this is going in a direction I don't care for. Let's be smart and take a break."

 

If You Are Not Game

1. Convey that you are not, by remaining silent or by leaving when others debate.

2. If you are put on the spot by a co-worker who wants you to disclose for whom you will vote, have a smart reply ready: "Frankly, my immediate concern is the Acme account. Do you mind if we talk about that? I would like to pick your brain" or "Can you tell me why you really need to know that?" Or simply, "You know, I am really not comfortable talking politics at work."

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3. If a co-worker tries to "out you," saying something along the lines of: "Your fellow conservative George Will ... ," a possible response could be: "Well, what can I say? You must believe that you know me well, which is a little strange, because I never talk politics at work."

4. The fact that you are not game does not give you license to look down upon those who are.

5. Whatever the reason or reasons, you have the option to change your mind and make yourself available to discuss politics. If this happens, respect the will of your co-workers who are still not game.

 

P.M. Forni is an award-winning professor of Italian literature at Johns Hopkins University and author of recently published The Civility Solution: What to Do When People Are Rude, which is available from Amazon. In 2000, he founded the Civility Initiative at Johns Hopkins and continues to teach courses on the theory and history of manners.

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