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Dos and don'ts of politicking at the office

By Rachel Goff, Special to CNN
Some people don't appreciate it when coworkers try to campaign for their candidate at the office.
Some people don't appreciate it when coworkers try to campaign for their candidate at the office.
  • Companies tend to differ on policies regarding political discussion
  • "Be honest and sincere, but keep it civil," says Richie Essenburg, political blogger
  • Be careful of soliciting for a political candidate and check with your supervisor

(CNN) -- Telling a dirty joke or spouting political slogans: Which can get you in trouble faster at the office?

Election Day can get heated when your co-workers pick political sides at the office and try to argue others into the ground.

"Work is not the place to discuss controversial topics, because you don't know where everyone in the group stands," says Jacqueline Whitmore, author of "Business Class: Etiquette Essentials for Success at Work."

"When you talk about it, you can make some people uncomfortable and not everyone is as passionate as other people might be."

Political talk can upset co-workers and create barriers in the office. Giving your opinion on controversial topics can quickly taint the atmosphere. People who don't agree with you might avoid you.

While most employers don't prohibit talk of politics, says Bryon Peterson, principle of Human Resources Group International Inc., companies tend to differ in policies and regulations regarding political discussion.

"In hard times, people become passionate. My recommendation: While we as a company cannot prohibit political discussion, the company can provide recommendations and expectations," says Peterson.

When Sam from accounting comes around spouting his opinion about the gubernatorial election, you can do a couple of things: avoid him completely, argue or say something to end the conversation.

Saying "I'm not well versed in that subject," or "We can agree to disagree" are nonconfrontational ways to avoid the discussion, Whitmore says.

But sometimes just listening is better than engaging -- especially if you work in the service industry. Whitmore gives the example of voicing political views at a beauty salon where tips make up a part of your income.

"Your client might bring it up, and as a hairdresser of that person, you sit and listen, that's one thing. But if your co-worker brings it up, you don't necessarily have to take part," says Whitmore.

Certain jobs do include a clash of opinions.

Political blogger Richie Essenburg is not afraid to hurt your feelings, stating on his website, "If you like Ronald Reagan, chances are you won't like this entry, possibly this whole blog site."

Essenburg has argued with lawyers, peers, Republicans and Democrats about anything from the health care bill to racism to the state of the economy. His advice? "Be honest and sincere, but keep it civil. Be open to someone's viewpoint, you might actually learn something from them," Essenburg says.

Peterson also says a political discussion can be a learning experience for both the supervisor and employees.

"I kind of like to divide and conquer, and discussion with employees is a pretty impactful way to address potential conflict," says Peterson. "That's a teaching moment."

He suggests that supervisors should address employees' political conversation by joining in, "I just hope and expect that you are using the opportunity to have this discussion, refraining from conflict, and using this to listen to each other."

Acting as a fundraiser for your political party or candidate may not be acceptable at your company. So you might want to check before e-mailing or posting solicitations on the break room bulletin board.

"It really depends on if the company has a no soliciting policy. If they do, then they can ask the person to tear it [poster] down," Peterson says.

It also depends on if a person is creating conflict. "Address the fact if the person is offending anyone or making an uncomfortable work environment," says Peterson.

If you are unsure about your company's policy on political conversation, contact your human resources department.