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by E W

There used to be a popular saying about never discussing politics or religion with friends or co-workers if you wanted them to remain friends or co-workers. However, perhaps due to the impersonal nature of the digital age, or backlash from "political correctness", such items are now common water-cooler fodder. But what do we do when our opinions clash with those of our co-workers; when strong opinions meet opposing strong opinions?

Never Discuss Religion or Politics... or... Else!

In today's world of electronic everything, personal networking and professional politics can influence work satisfaction and career potential. So what do we do when our views or opinions contrast markedly from our co-workers or superiors? What do we do if those difference loom large in our workplace?

Often heard advice about never discussing religion or politics might be sage and timeless, but sometimes, in the course of spending more hours per day with our co-workers than our families, the topics may arise.

  • For many people, opinions don't matter and disagreements are that and nothing more – nothing to do with the business at work.
  • But for others, differences of opinion (that are not directly work related) are paramount – opinions are morals and ethics and involve the core of our persons, our professions, and therefore our work.

How might we cope when we find ourselves in such situations?

1. Remember, Differences Can Be Healthy

Firstly, remember that it is only by having differences in ideas, ideals, and opinions that we are able to exist at all. If everyone only ever did and thought the same things and always behaved the same, our species would have died out long ago.

Growth, adaptation and survival occur by change – and changes by definition are different. This does not negate the necessity for societal norms, but if we only had norms without divergences, we would not grow, adapt - or survive.

 2. You Can Agree to Disagree

Secondly, differences do not have to be detrimental. People can agree to disagree.

  • If a disagreement is not directly work related, have a frank discussion and come to an agreement that you can work or socialize together, but will no longer discuss 'hot' topics because you realize further discussion is not productive.

Learn about assertive conflict resolution.

 3. Go to Human Resources

Thirdly, be aware that discussions that are not work related, if they persist in any harassing manner, may subject one or both persons to workplace human resources departments and policies.

Any ideals not related to a person's professional practice should be left out of the work place, particularly if proving problematic. If both parties can't agree to disagree, one or both may contact their human resources department for advice.

 4. Get Outside Assistance

Finally, if a person finds he cannot exist in a workplace, even without participating in on-going discussions about the differences of opinion, and after attempting to work things out informally and formally, then it might be time to look for outside assistance.

  • This might mean a new place of employment or a new viewpoint or two. Keep in mind that unless the job search involves looking for specific groups of like-minded individuals, one is likely to encounter other differences of opinion.
  • Seeking counsel from a third party, such as a professional counselor, might help with finding further coping suggestions, or providing a balancing opinion or education. It is important to get along with our fellow people the best we can, but it's also important to have a satisfactory level of peace at our places of employment.
  • It would also be prudent to investigate the pros and cons of career changes, unemployment, etc. prior to taking any actions, and discussing these items with job search agencies, career counselors, or professional therapists.

Learn how to find a good therapist.

Peace of Mind Matters

Differences of opinion at work don't have to spell the end of a career. Some people can compartmentalize topics and work well with co-workers carrying large differences in thoughts, while others may need assistance – self-help books, groups, counseling, etc. to learn some cognitive tips or new thinking skills.

Sometimes if the differences cross a professional line, human resources departments may be involved. And as we often spend more time at work than anywhere else in life, peace of mind is important.

If no alternatives can be found, exploring career options, and other potential paths, perhaps with a career counselor, might be appropriate. Life is short, and we can live it well.

Learn how to build a better balance between work and life!

About the author E W:
From Victim Advocacy with survivors of abuse and violence, case management with senior citizens and their families, counseling with at-risk youth and their families, to therapy with adults fighting addiction - bereavement, depression, relationship issues, parenting issues, divorce, blended families, disability, career changes, life changes, my professional experience has encountered it all (so to speak). Fitness, health, coping with chronic illness, aging parents, raising children, job loss, job stress,.... and the list goes on!
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Page last updated Jul 14, 2014

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