Race to the Top: Your Career and Politics

Q: Is it okay to talk about politics at work?

Lunch Meeting

A: First, thank you so much for your e-mail. It’s exciting to know that Race to the Top is valuable to you. Keep the e-mails coming. It’s also clear that a lot of people are interested in talking more about how to deal with “politics” at work. Given everything that is going on – it makes sense. Even if we wake up every morning not thinking about the news, it sometimes finds us. And, if we do wake up thinking about the news, we go to work with some tough issues top of mind.

This is a topic that deserves extra attention, so keep reading during the upcoming weeks. Today, we start with the number one question I have received: is it okay to talk about controversial topics at work? In short, the general answer is “no.” In most cases, your job won’t require it – so you don’t have to deal with it, so why go there?

When I started working on Wall Street, something happened that involved a coworker, so I asked my father for advice on how to deal with politics at work. He didn’t hesitate and he was very clear: the workplace is a specific environment – you have a specific skill; they need it, they pay you for it and that’s where it should end. He followed it up by saying, “You are new to Wall Street. When you are at work, your skills should shine through; that’s what everyone should know about you.” My dad felt strongly that people of color have amazing skills and, given, an even starting line, we will break records.

My dad ended that conversation by saying, “There are three things you should never talk about at work: religion, politics and money, including the money you make.” For ten years, I followed that rule to the letter and it served me well. I was sad when I talked to colleagues who got caught in cross fire because, in most cases, he or she should not have been in the conversation in the first place. Unfortunately, it happens all the time.

If you want to keep it simple, follow my dad’s rule: keep certain conversations off limits, no matter what. And, if you want to be prepared for the special situations, keep reading. We are going to talk about the “pop up” conversations, which can catch you completely off guard; the “what do you think conversations,” when you are asked a direct question about a sensitive topic and, importantly, whether my dad’s rule changes when you have “friends” at work.

Lilyanne has worked in corporate America for 25 years and has supported eight CEOs. She wants to answer your career questions – so you can get ahead at work. Email your questions to Lilyanne@racetothetopcareers.com <mailto:Lilyanne@racetothetopcareers.com> , rttcareers@gmail.com or through your favorite connection to the Houston Forward Times.