Skip to main content

What to do when your boss and co-workers don’t share your political beliefs

Have election results affected your relationships at work? Try these survival strategies.

What to do when your boss and co-workers don’t share your political beliefs

No one ever said you and your co-workers have to agree on everything in order to peacefully coexist at work. But if you’re experiencing a bit more friction at the office lately—and it’s getting in the way of getting the job done—know that you’re not alone.

In fact, after this year’s polarizing presidential election, some companies even needed to reach out to professional organizations to help manage their employees’ strong, sometimes volatile post-election emotions.

Why are things suddenly so heated in the office? For one thing, in the age of constant connection via smartphones and social media channels, it’s nearly impossible to avoid any knowledge of our colleagues’ political leanings. And once you know that Bob in accounting or that Sue in customer success don't share your basic beliefs, it can be hard to look at them quite the same way. The situation gets even more awkward when your boss is among those with whom you disagree.

These tips can help you keep your sanity in a potentially acrimonious environment.

Jump into the fray—if you’re comfortable

Some people enjoy talking about politics at work—they like the back-and-forth about civic issues and are genuinely interested in learning about how other people think. If this describes your boss and co-workers, and your workplace feels receptive to respectful discourse, feel free to engage. Stick to facts, avoid name-calling and practice your best listening skills (no interrupting!).

The point is not to change anyone’s mind in these discussions—it’s highly unlikely, for starters—but rather to see others’ points of view and to sharpen your own thinking.

Deflect unpleasant conversations

Just because someone else wants to talk about politics at work doesn’t mean you have to engage—even if it’s your boss.

If the conversations become heated or are otherwise a drain on your workday, politely cut off the campaigner before they get too far into their entreaty.

If someone is pressing you on a particularly sensitive issue, calmly tell them you are not comfortable discussing the topic. That’s usually all it takes. If need be, walk away with a declaration of how busy you are. It might seem rude, but it's better than losing your temper.

This is true even when the person in question is your boss, though the delivery may require a lighter hand. Tell the person, “Hey, I’m sure we could talk about this all day, but I really need to get back to work,” then explain what it is you’re working on. It can help snap them back to more relevant topics.

If your colleagues aren’t backing down despite your polite brushoffs, or if they are behaving in ways that regularly upset you or interfere with your work, it’s time to get help. Address your concerns with your manager—even if the person causing you grief is your manager. Be honest with the person. If you fear the tension is affecting how you’re treated at work, consider escalating your concerns to HR. Either way, definitely speak up sooner rather than later.

Find a more like-minded tribe

If you’ve grown weary of feeling liking a blue dot in a sea of red, or vice versa, you may want to find a new place to work. This may even mean changing industries, since some fields as a whole tend to skew one way or another.

Few organizations are going to openly advertise their political leanings during the job interview process, so make sure you go into your interview with a set of questions designed to give you a realistic picture of what the company’s culture—and values—are like.

You may also want to do a little internet sleuthing on your own. For example, you can view the political campaign contributions of a company's owners and executives at sites like PoliticalMoneyLine. If they lean very heavily one way or another, let that be your prompt to keep your eyes open for other signs of a mismatch.