Laura Johnson on how to deal with Brexit discussions at work
Politics has entered office life. The UKs departure from the European Union is currently occupying the top slot in the UKs most popular office watercooler topics. Everyone has an opinion on Brexit (and is entitled to one), but is it really wise to talk politics with colleagues?
In the lead up to the EU Referendum, the nation became gripped in the debate over whether to remain or leave. This particular vote gave us a lot to consider, a lot of uncertainties and risks to weigh up and naturally as a result a lot of questions and issues to talk about. And this heightened interest in politics has continued with even more passion following the result of the vote. The decision to leave has caused even the mildest natured amongst us to be drawn into politically fuelled ranting (whether this is at the result itself or at the reaction of our opposing voters) and to challenge the views of our families, friends, neighbours and colleagues. Yes, colleagues. But, isn't the unwritten rule when it comes to discussing politics at work simple? Just don't do it. Ever.
Talking politics at work is widely discouraged. Mainly because even what starts out as harmless chit-chat inevitably turns into an impassioned debate. When it comes to the state of our nation, its hard not to get personal and almost impossible not to make judgements based on a workmates political preferences, after all these are decisions that impact the future of our families as well as the prosperity of our businesses and careers. Now, if you're a fan of passionately dissecting difficult issues through feisty exchanges, the amplified political feeling of the current climate may be something you're thriving on. But what you see as healthy debate, could be misinterpreted as bullying by those who are less forthright with their political preferences.
Political conversations are competitive in nature even if you share the same ideological stance as a colleague. Thrown into a debate with a like-minded peer, you'll feel inclined to out statistic them to show your view is based on superior judgment and insight. And of course if you're opposed to a fellow workers standpoint, the pressure to blind them with facts and figures aimed to discredit their opinion is even more powerful. However, whatever the case, the end result will see you both slump back to your desk muttering expletives and regretting even starting the conversation. Because that's the thing with getting into a political debate at work no-one ever wins. The result is always the same; it divides opinion and typically rouses unhealthy judgemental behaviour.
Conflict at work is easy to provoke without adding politics to the mix. Disagreements happen around the watercooler everyday. Whether you're debating whether Deirdre from accounts has had Botox or arguing the case for why a dancing dog is an unacceptable demonstration of why Britain's got talent, office chat can stir up plenty of emotions. But whereas these debates can be dismissed as banter and forgotten in a flash, the ideological divisions provoked by discussing politics can be tricky to repair. For example, if you find yourself amongst the few that hold an alternative or unpopular view on a political issue in your office, you can end up feeling isolated, alienated and even humiliated. These are not emotions that are easily swept under the carpet when later that day yo'ure expected to work side-by-side on a project or deliver a joint presentation to a client.
The case for keeping schtum about your political beliefs at work is strong. And most of the time its a principle we can accept and abide by. That is until you hit a particularly hot issue like Brexit. Suddenly politics is on the tips of our tongues, and despite every effort to bite our tongues, our opinions are inevitably cropping up in work chat far more than usual.
As a manager, you're probably hearing Brexit discussions in your team and whilst suppressing these conversations completely is probably unhealthy, stepping in and ensuring a certain level of professionalism and courtesy is respected could prevent irreparable damage to team dynamics. And if this feels like hard work, fear not, the uproar over Brexit will pass in time, and the cause of Deidre from accounts amazingly smooth and line free forehead will once again be the hot topic around