News Flash: Trump & Clinton Are In Your Office

Photo: Paul J. Richards/Getty Images.
"I don’t even think of her as a woman. When I look at her, I see Evil Incarnate."

"'Wrong. You didn’t order a latte. Wrong.' What if I answered every customer’s order like that? Isn’t that exactly what Trump did at the debate?"

"How is everyone dealing with their debate hangover?"

These three snippets of conversation — uttered by my doorman, my barista, and a coworker — were all encountered before I’d even fired up my laptop yesterday. With a looming election that’s newsworthy in every possible sense of the word, politics talk in the workplace has become inevitable — and sometimes downright nasty.

Of course, election lead-up catchphrases have existed and been discussed around watercoolers during other races (who could forget, "I can see Russia from my house," "I invented the internet," or "binders full of women?"), but the tone of this election has been much more hateful — and that tone has trickled into how we discuss the candidates and the race. While it’s one thing for my doorman to be pro-Trump, it absolutely struck me as off-key that he was calling Clinton “evil” in front of residents who may have different political views. But it was just as jarring on the flip side, when the barista was poking fun at Trump. And by the time I got to the office, I felt like I did have a hangover. Not from Wednesday night's debate itself (which was all kinds of crazy), but from the conversations I’d had with people who were going through their workdays while I was trying to get to mine.

I don’t know how to navigate politics in the workplace in the current climate, and I’m not alone.
As civility has eroded from the presidential race, the anger has become evident in classrooms, cubicles, and conference rooms across America.

“I support Trump for a variety of reasons,” shares Kelly, 25, a teacher in Pennsylvania. “Do I love him? No. I don’t support his comments, and I do think he has a troubling history with women. But I think Clinton has too many ties to Washington and owes people too many favors. I believe Trump will create the change we need in Washington.”

But Kelly now keeps her beliefs under wraps at work. “I’ve had coworkers — people I’ve been to weddings and baby showers with — say that I must hate women, that I must be racist because of my political beliefs. It’s stunning and hurtful.”

Kelly also recalls a time when she got called out in a meeting by her supervisor. “He said, 'We have a Trump supporter among us,' as though I were a spy. It was really inappropriate. I don’t keep my political views a secret, but we were talking about budget plans for the school year. The conversation had nothing to do with my political views!”

Ardent Hillary supporters say that there can be a clique mentality they know may shut some people out. “I’m a nurse and the majority of [my coworkers] are liberal,” shares Carrie, 40, who lives in Oregon. “So when we know we’re on a shift with someone who identifies as a Trump [supporter], we probably are a little bit more quiet and subdued than we would have been otherwise.”

And some people prefer to just keep their political beliefs on the DL — even if they agree with the office majority.
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He said, 'We have a Trump supporter among us,' as though I were a spy.

“Honestly, I just hate the toxicity of the current election. I feel triggered by certain things Trump has said, and I don’t want conversations about being 'grabbed by the pussy' to dominate my work,” shares 28-year-old Jamie, a nonprofit grants administrator in New York. Jamie also underscores the thing that bothers me so much about the current tone of work conversations: That it’s hard not to be angry yourself when you're talking about infuriating statements made by a candidate. And while I absolutely think anger is warranted over some of the statements the candidates have made, I wonder whether the office is the best place to unload.

An August Harris Poll study found that one in five workers has avoided someone in the office because they didn’t agree with their political beliefs. In the same survey, 27% of people reported at least one negative event at work stemming from a political conversation.

But here’s the flip side: Uncomfortable or not, the current political climate has ignited passion in people who were otherwise uninterested in what was going on in the electorate.

“It’s been contentious, but it’s actually been really good,” says Melody, a 23-year-old waitress in Colorado. “When the Trump tapes leaked, it was all anyone was talking about at work, and I was so passionate that this is wrong, you can’t talk to women this way.” Surprisingly, she says, her coworkers listened. “I don’t know if I changed their minds about who to vote for, but the topic of sexual assault never would have come up among my coworkers otherwise. I think it made us closer, and I have one server who says he had never thought about consent until Donald Trump.”

Kathryn, 32, a journalist in New York, says the upside of the politics talk at work is that it's invaluable in helping her suss out where she stands as far as her own beliefs. When the paper she worked with endorsed Trump, she made the decision to find a new job. “For the first time, I realized just how much our actions define us. I was calling myself a liberal and working for a company that criticized Clinton every day. And I realized that I couldn’t, in good conscience, continue working there.” She found a new job with a different media company, and feels much more comfortable in an environment that's more in line with her political views.

Bottom line: For the next 18 days, none of us can pretend the election isn’t happening. And even the watercooler can’t calm the intensity of some interoffice political disagreements. So I’m going to make a party-neutral decision to roughly follow Michelle Obama’s catchphrase: "When they go low, we go high." If a topic comes up that drives me crazy, I’m either going to walk away or give a brief reason for why that kind of talk offends me — instead of seething at my doorman, I wish I had calmly told him how offensive it is to call someone who identifies as a woman "not a woman."

So let's make a general commitment to civility. After all, Hillary and Donald will never have to work together. But you will have to work alongside those who oppose your candidate of choice — no matter what happens on Election Day.
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