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Keep Politics Out of the Workplace!

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With mid-term elections in about eight months, one of the smartest things you can leave out of your tool belt or sales packet is your political opinion. Few things cause so much contention as a firm position on a political perspective.

Political opinions in the customer service arena are as volatile as religious opinions. The customer service field is a proven ground for neutrality in all successful endeavors. While you may enjoy a lively political debate amongst your family and friends, it has no place in a customer transaction.

Trying to win over your coworkers or customers to your point of view is usually an exercise in futility. And while it may be particularly difficult holding your tongue during election time, discretion is the wisest course.

Member Luke Weiden of Town and Country Services offers this humorous and enlightening advice, “Don’t talk about religion, politics, or sex with customers or friends and you will have a good life.”

To be more specific, don’t display political messages on your person, cubicle, or service vehicle. Some companies have a specific human resources policy against expressing your personal politics while on the job.

Also avoid posting your strong opinions on social media. Your customers, coworkers, and boss may be among your potential audience, and that could create a backlash. Keep this in mind when commenting on the internet. You may be over your tirade in a week, but the internet is forever.

As a company, consider the professional image you want to convey. To appeal to the broadest range of customers, avoid references to politics in your print and media advertising no matter how tempting it is at the time. A negative image can take years to erase.

If, despite your very best efforts, you find yourself being baited or dragged into a political conversation with a customer, try some of these proven tactics:

Be noncommittal. Your customer may have a very strong viewpoint on a specific issue, and your viewpoint may be its polar opposite. Rather than having a heated debate on the “right” way to fix the issue, just acknowledge that there is an issue.

Excuse yourself. Explain to your customer that it is your policy to never discuss politics while on the job. If the customer is insistent, be kind, but fi rm. Try something along these lines: “While I appreciate hearing different political viewpoints, I find it best suited to my off -work hours. While serving customers, I like to keep my concentration where it belongs: on solving their problems.”

Turn down the volume. When you’re discussing something you are passionate about, you tend to speak faster and louder. If your customer goads you into a political discussion, each of you may be “one-upping” the other at every turn. Do a quick sound check, and if the volume is increasing, take a deep breath, step back, and smile. Compliment your debate partner on caring as much as you do about the subject, and get his buy-in to let it go.

Respect your customer, and expect respect in return. If you feel uncomfortable, say so. It is perfectly acceptable to suggest a change of topic.
Find something you can agree on. Common ground can rescue you from political quicksand. For example, you can come to an agreement with your customer that taxes are problematic without getting into World War 3 over it.

If you habitually speak what is on your mind because you think you are protected by the First Amendment, think again. In general, the First Amendment only broadly protects your freedom of speech. With a few exceptions, private employers can legally bar political discussion in the workplace. The Society for Human Resources conducted a recent study, which found that approximately 25% of businesses had a written policy regarding political activities (a further 20% had unwritten policies). If you are unsure as to your company’s specific rule, ask. There are many precedents, and yes, you can be terminated for a violation.

Before you leave for your sales or service call, do a quick mental run-through of all your strategies. The more prepared you are, the better. Starting your day by listening to political news of any slant is a bad idea, and will only get you worked up before you even meet the customer. Try listening to something upbeat or educational instead. If you’re still finding it hard to resist temptation and feel your customer setting you up for a glide down that slippery political slope, take a deep breath and remember the advice of member Rick Cronholm of Johansen & Anderson, “It’s not worth losing a sale over.”

Melinda Wamsley

Posted In: ACCA Now, Customer Service, Management

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