Over the weekend, a few hundred thousand people turned out at a Washington DC rally to affirm the message that we can disagree without being disagreeable and that our opponents should not be demonized. They came armed with a sense of humor to send the serious message of a need for civility in our public discourse. It’s a shame that this message has to be delivered by comedians rather than our leaders, but maybe the message of civility will be contagious.

Civility and good humor are certainly a good themes for us all on election day eve, the culmination of a difficult political season. Campaigns have been highly charged and acrimonious and there are a lot of volatile issues at play: the economy, immigration, gay rights, and religion. For many, these are important and personal issues, so it’s all too easy for discussions with opponents to escalate into anger and emotion.

Sue Shellenbarger of the Wall Street Journal talks about ups and downs of politics in the workplace in her column and also posts about ways the employers can help to keep the peace in pre-election politics on her blog.

A 2008 American Management Association survey on Political Discussion in the Workplace Survey revealed attitudes about politics as a topic of discussion:

“35 percent of respondents were uncomfortable talking politics with co-workers, while 19 percent were okay. And about 39 percent were not comfortable discussing their political views with their supervisor, while about 40 percent were. When it came to having written policies regarding prohibiting the distribution or posting of party of candidate material, about 39 percent said their company did, about 30 percent said their company didn’t and 31 percent didn’t know.”

It’s unrealistic to think that people won’t bring issues that are important to them into workplace discussions. It’s important for managers and supervisors to establish and enforce an overall climate of respect on this and any other topics. Remind people to be gracious, whether their candidates win or lose.

It’s helpful to remember that this is not new territory. In the 2008 election, things were pretty heated as can be heard in NPR’s segment with Amy Dickinson where callers discuss their experiences with politics on the job. In that election, we also posted about managing politics at work. And the roots of acrimony go back much further than 2008. While that is not a good defense, it’s comforting to know that despite our differences and the heat of our rhetoric, we manage to move on and progress as a nation.


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