Country singer Sammy Kershaw recorded a song in the 90’s called “Politics, Religion and Her.” In the song, the singer runs into an old friend who asks about his ex. To which the singer replies, “we can talk about anything…but politics, religion and her.” All three, for the singer, are touchy subjects. And, as many have discovered the hard way, touchy subjects are often best left untouched.
Here’s a suggestion for making it through the next 100 days leading up to the general election: Don’t risk turning off professional associates by initiating political discussions. Like Kershaw sings: talk about baseball or old Hollywood stars or tell a joke. Debating politics among family and close friends is a long-honored American tradition, but going political in your business life may lead to an unpleasant outcome.
I recall a dinner party twenty years ago that ended badly because of a political argument (fueled by several glasses of wine). The details are not important (and have, at this point, been mostly forgotten), but our wonderful evening of fine dining ended in bruised feelings and upset.
In the 16 years since Kershaw’s song was released, the political scene in America has become more polarized. And political topics remain, in many quarters, touchy subjects. They can—no matter which side of the fence you are on—upset business associates. A political discussion can distract from important business conversations and may even prevent you from closing a deal.
In the past, I have shared my political passions freely. But in 2012, I choose not to bring my political beliefs to the table in my business dealings. I avoid political postings on Twitter and Facebook. One important reason is the common perception that if you are a supporter of a particular party, you follow every single belief of that party. But most of us are not so sharply defined. For instance, I have friends who are socially liberal and economically conservative (and some who are just the opposite).
If someone asks your thoughts on the election, before you answer, consider the implications of your reply. Are you going to cause someone to think differently of you because of your politics? Will your response lead someone else to put all of her or his political feelings on the table? Is your feedback truly relevant to the important business at hand? Will a political discussion preempt the business discussion?
I encourage you to participate in the election process and be sure to vote, no matter which candidates or causes you support. Just take care that, as the political season heats up even more, you mix politics and business very gingerly. The combination can be volatile.