Don’t let your causes destroy work relationships

Coexisting with coworkers whose views you detest

Fred Mael
You’re a good person, a team player, and a good citizen at work. You usually get along well with your coworkers and you appreciate diversity. Yet some subjects are so close to your heart and so involved with pain and suffering that you can’t imagine how someone can hold the opposite view. If a coworker holds that opposite view – passionately – it can spell trouble for you, your work group, and your job.

For example, you may be strongly pro-life or pro-choice and your coworker holds the opposing view. Or, you may be Arab, Israeli, or Jewish, or Irish Catholic or Protestant, and your coworker has strong opposing views about achieving peace in the Middle East or Northern Ireland. You may strongly support a candidate or a position that your coworker loathes. Affirmative action, animal rights, protecting the environment, our foreign entanglements – one or many subjects evoke your strong views and emotions. The common thread is that you are both passionate about your views. Election season may heighten these feelings because now you feel that it actually matters that others see things your way and vote accordingly.

You are so sensitive to certain terms and their connotations – “terrorist” or “freedom fighter “, “pro-life” or “pro-choice”, “quotas” or “discrimination” – that just hearing them used by someone else compels you to rush to correct them. And of course, when you receive email with sympathetic articles or websites, you just have to pass them along to your coworkers – and so does your opposing coworker. Soon you are avoiding each other. You implicitly ask others to choose sides, and soon you both become hazards for workgroup cohesion – and liabilities for your boss. If you are the boss, or you are both managers, the possibilities for poisoning the workplace are even greater.

However, if your differences step over a line into intimidation, endless proselytizing, or actual threats, then all of this becomes irrelevant. Management needs to step in and put their foot down. Issue-based harassment should be taken as seriously as any other.

Taking the Long View

In an election season, many opinions and deeply held views move to the forefront. You are asked by some in the media and your community to get involved and convince the undecided. There are many ways to champion the causes that matter to you most – but getting embroiled in sniping and personal vendettas about them with coworkers is the least effective for you, your career, and your cause. Thinking about ways to defuse the interpersonal tension and empathizing with your opponent without compromising your values can reduce your workplace stress and help you be a more effective coworker, employee, and person.

Fred Mael ( is an organizational psychologist who does consulting in areas such as talent retention, organizational culture, and performance management, as well as executive and work/life coaching. This article appeared in the November 2004 issue of Baltimore SmartCEO magazine.