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Avoiding Political Discussions at Work

By by Tory Johnson, CEO of Women for Hire

How much is too much when discussing your political leanings at the water cooler?

Smart, savvy business people pride themselves on keeping up with current events, politics and even newsmaker gossip so they always have interesting tidbits to contribute to small talk at meetings, parties and social outings. They know that idle chit-chat is awfully valuable in building professional relationships because it allows people to connect on a relaxed, personal level.

But that same small talk can backfire when it's highly opinionated and possibly offensive to others. While there's little harm in sharing your pick for the Super Bowl or World Series, there's surely the potential for sparks when siding with political candidates in the workplace.

During the last presidential election, an associate told a story during a meeting about his young daughter asking, very innocently, about the difference between a Democrat and a Republican. His response: "The difference is that Democrats care about people and Republicans don't."

That not-so-PC reply wouldn't have been a big deal at home, but in the workplace it earned him the cold shoulder of colleagues who strongly disagreed with his assessment of the two parties. A couple months after the incident, he was passed over for promotion. To this day, he believes that his big mouth cost him the opportunity for advancement.

Sometimes there's a comfortable middleground that allows you to react to the latest news without crossing into dangerous territory.  Hillary Clinton's show of emotion in New Hampshire resulted in mixed opinions among cubemates nationwide and sparked a healthy debate about whether or not it's ever acceptable for women to cry in the workplace.  While defending or attacking Senator Clinton's political views could offend co-workers, a discussion around crying isn't likely to be as heated.  

As the mudslinging on the campaign trail grows more intense, in the office it's best to refrain from exposing your politics unless you're crystal clear that voicing your beliefs will not alienate anyone, especially you. Just because you know a colleague is like-minded in business -- or even in music, movies and snacks -- doesn't mean that you share similar political views.   Be an outspoken advocate for what matters to you on your own time. But while at work, it's best to be quiet than to offend.

Tory Johnson is the CEO of Women For Hire and the Workplace Contributor on ABC's Good Morning America.  She co-authored Take This Book to Work: How to Ask For (and Get) Money, Fulfillment and Advancement, which was released in paperback in September 2007. Connect with her at

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