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Are A Co-worker's Political Views Ruining Your Opinion Of Them?

All in all, you really like your co-workers. Lucky you. Then one day, a favorite co-worker flaps his yap in support of a presidential candidate you couldn't vote for in a million years. Oh, no.

Let the election year workplace games begin, because we Americans will be re-upping our POTUS contract in eight months, and until then I'm willing to place a $10,000 bet on American employees having politics on the brain. Unfortunately, silly season in U.S. politics won't be limited to a few weeks in August this year, and the political climate is sure to be partly cloudy and overheated with occasional thunderstorms. Lucky us. I've written past pieces on the topic of talking politics at work -- namely, whether or not managers should allow it -- but I find a secondary question equally, if not far more, interesting: What should you do if a co-worker's political views are changing your opinion of them, and not for the better?

Maybe your co-worker strongly supports Rick Santorum, Ron Paul, Mitt Romney, or President Obama. Change the name and political party but the result is still the same, because at the end of the day you vehemently disagree with your co-worker's (jaw-dropping and boneheaded, iyho) choice with every fiber of your duly-employed being. Worst of all, gaining an express pass into their personal political paradigm has slightly altered your opinion of them. Maybe this co-worker says something incredibly brilliant in a meeting, and you admire how skilled they are and how glad you are to work alongside them even though they would gladly vote for THAT GUY. How on earth could they do that??? Ugh!

You try not to let the italicized part enter your thought process, but it does from time to time and then it lingers there to vaguely creep you out, sort of like a Herman Cain ad.

How others' political views subtly impact our own view of them on the job is something we don't really like to talk about but it can be there, sort of like the papercut you got at work this morning. You try your best to ignore it, but it can sting and annoy given the right circumstances.

Of course, you're just as likely to discover a like-minded co-worker who supports the same candidates up and down the ballot as you do, and WOW...this co-worker is just that much more awesome, isn't she? Let's do lunch! More on that later. But for now, we have to figure out how to put your other co-worker's divergent political paradigm in perspective so we all make it to November together in one piece instead of slowly falling apart like the Newt Gingrich campaign. Here are five tips for putting a co-worker's personal political positions in their proper place on the job:

1. Stay focused on the work. Yes, I know. It seems obvious, but it can be easier said than done, especially in cases when perhaps too much has been said. Remember that you're ultimately at the office to get the work done, and that this is what brings you both together on a daily basis. Projects, projections and good pens always running out of ink are the main things both of you share in common, right? Right. Aww, just look at the two of you, co-existing so peacefully in your respective cubicles! Two peas in a pod, just not a political pod.

2. Look for common ground. Can I get a status update on that project? When is the deadline again? Once you've talked all you can about the work, look for new, exciting and non-politically tinged avenues of conversation. Maybe you'll find out that you and this co-worker both share a love of _____. Sports? Spicy foods? Novels by Suzanne Collins? You can fill in the blanks over time, and that's the fun part. Finding what else you share in common can lead to new common bonds.

3. Ponder this co-worker's positive qualities. There were reasons you liked this co-worker from the get-go. What are they, again? Oh, yes. She is hilarious. She's quick on her feet. She's so much fun to converse with whenever you have the opportunity. She's the yin to your yang in an office full of bland personalities. While you're at it, look for new ways in which this co-worker impresses you on a daily basis. If you want to be super nice, compliment this employee every so often on his or her natural talents and skills. Wow, you're so good at _____. Maybe you'll get a compliment in return that propels you through a long afternoon and reminds you (again) just how cool this co-worker really is aside from The Topic That We Shouldn't Discuss, a.k.a., you support that ballot initiative? Really!?

4. Keep political talk respectful. Speaking of, so where do you go from here with this co-worker? Do you open Pandora's (political) Box again or keep it shut tightly as November draws nigh? Chances are, politics will come up in conversation as the months go by; it's how you respond to these conversations that counts. Even if you can't see a particular presidential candidate on teevee without feeling your blood pressure rise, stay respectful when the topic comes up in the workplace and ask your overly chatty and potentially disrespectful co-workers to do the same if necessary. Try to keep the topic lighthearted, and save your most heated political discussions for later with a like-minded person, or for Facebook.

5. Be open minded (or at least try to be). Ah, the biggest challenge of all, right? We all have our opinions on everything underneath the sun, and politics is just one rock to turn over and inspect. Agree to disagree with this co-worker while seeing your common purpose and shared interests wherever possible. And remember: This co-worker disagrees with your views, too. He or she is sitting there wondering how you could possibly vote for that guy. With any luck, your co-worker will be respectful and thoughtful toward you as well (if not, tell them to shut their piehole because you don't want to hear it -- respectfully, of course). Being able to co-exist somewhat peacefully in a melting pot filled to the brim with divergent views is part of what makes the United States great, isn't it?

If you wholeheartedly agree with your co-worker's political views, disregard the above five tips and breathe a sigh of relief that you work with this guy (or gal). Besides, you've got office politics to deal with, and that's enough muck to wade through for one day. Good luck.


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