Tough Call: Politics in the workplace

politics

Your two top salespeople are passionate and vocal about their politics, which is costing you customers. What would you do?

You and your company have seen a lot in the 30+ years since you opened the doors. And your business philosophy is relatively simple: Offer solid products at competitive prices, deliver on your promises, and always treat others with respect, regardless of politics. As you tell your team, “We’re here to help our customers complete projects and solve problems. To do that, we need to ask questions, then listen, and do what we can to move them forward.”

In your view, it needn’t be overly complicated. And for the most part, it isn’t. You’ve got great products at solid prices, and your experienced team is skilled at helping customers buy the right products for their project. Unfortunately, where your team is dropping the ball is the part about treating others with respect. More specifically, two members of your team—who just happen to be your top salespeople—are so passionate and vocal about their political views, that they’re rubbing customers the wrong way. Here are two examples:

Bob is a great salesperson, very experienced and knowledgeable, and typically very good with people. He’s also a staunch Democrat, which is fine, unless it affects his work. Twice in the past two weeks, customers have come in wearing “Make America Great Again” caps—and Bob proceeded to confront them about their beliefs. One customer, who hap- pens to enjoy a vigorous debate, was fine with it. The other left the store without buying anything and has since been seen shopping at a competing yard.

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Like Bob, Susan is at the top of her game as a salesperson. As a staunch Republican, she’s on the opposite end of the scale from Bob. Like Bob, she sometimes pushes her views on customers—especially those she knows or suspects to lean liberal. The results the last two times have mirrored Bob’s experience: one customer enjoyed a spirited conversation, the other took their business elsewhere.

You understand how people can be passionate about politics, but you’re a firm believer that it has no place at work. The fact that you’ve lost two customers supports your stance. Still, Bob and Susan refuse to back down. Despite being on opposite ends of the political spectrum, their argument is virtually identical: “My views are a big part of who I am— and any sensible person knows that I’m right. If someone puts their political views out there, I’m justified in bringing it up in conversation. After all, this is America, and I have a right to voice my beliefs.”

What would you do?

LET ‘EM GO. If they can’t control the urge to confront customers with opposing political views, then eventually they’re going to alienate everyone. If they say no, let ‘em go.

USE REASON. Explain that your company can’t afford to lose customers because of their personal beliefs. Ask what they’d do if they were in your shoes. Then they’ll understand.

RELAX. There’s nothing wrong with robust political debate— wherever it occurs. For each customer you lose, you’ll likely gain one. Let the chips fall where they may.

STAND FIRM. Announce that your company is losing customers because some employees’ vocal political beliefs. Establish a rule that prohibits any political discussions at work. Then enforce it.

What would you do?

SOMETHING ELSE?

If you’d take a different plan of attack, email your suggested solution to James@LBMJournal.com. If we publish your reply, we’ll send you an LBM Journal mug.

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