Keeping Politics Out of Your Freelance Writing Business

What I’m listening to: Hardliners by Holcombe Waller

I get to play today! Jenn Mattern and I have a date to do some collaborative projects, and I get to sit in her comfy chair and love up her dog and cats.

I love freelance writing. 🙂

Yet because we work with a variety of people and temperaments, sometimes the job can require more tact than we think we can muster. It’s never been more obvious than this past year during the nastiest election cycle I’ve ever seen.

From the time the candidates announced until this very day, the vitriol and hate has been elevated beyond anything any of us could have expected.

Some of it is coming from your clients.

And it’s horrible for their business. No matter what your political opinion is, half of your audience isn’t going to like it.

Way to limit your business, right?

I’m not one to bite my tongue a lot, but in business, I do my best to keep my personal opinions to myself. I’m not always successful (and you’ll find plenty of proof of that fact on Twitter), but I try to temper it. Why? Because my personal battles never belong in my professional life. That’s me. You may think differently, and you’re welcome to. But remember that half the people who are listening don’t agree.

So what happens when your client voices his or her opinion loudly and to every corner of the internet?

Become Switzerland. When I see it (and I do right now), I avoid the topic entirely. I make like it’s not happening, like their opinions aren’t out there, that they’re not relevant to me (and they’re really not)… call it burying your head if you will, but I will not enter into a war of words with my clients over anything, including politics. And no one ever wins points when they’re shouting.

Never bring it up with them. Ever. There’s a reason why our vote is a secret ballot. No one needs to know my vote or my views. It’s not relevant to the relationship. What’s relevant is the business relationship. I would no sooner take a client to task over their beliefs than I would take them to task over their religion, their interest in sports, their reading choices, their attire…. If it doesn’t relate directly to the project at hand, it’s not relevant.

Divert. And divert again. I’ve never had a client bring up politics with me directly, though some interview subjects have alluded to the topic. That’s when I change the subject. And I’ll keep changing it and bring them back to the original topic. If it becomes out of hand, I suggest just holding up your virtual stop sign: “We’re getting off track, and I’ve never been all that interested in politics. But I am interested in that last point you were making on X. Can you expand on that thought?”

Be respectful and expect no less. This is business. Even if they bring up politics and try shoving opinions down your throat, it doesn’t matter. We have to conduct ourselves as we would in any other business setting. We can’t take it personally even if we’re burning up inside with anger. If it’s not relevant to the project, it’s not a topic of discussion. Period. And that means you have every right to respectfully ask them to not talk about it. If they can’t respect your wishes, halt the conversation. If they’re belligerent asses about it, you may want to rethink that relationship.

Writers, have you had clients bring up politics or any other taboo topics with you?
How did you respond?

What’s your own opinion about how we as business owners should be addressing such topics in public?

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  • Paula Hendrickson January 26, 2017 at 12:09 pm

    In person, I try not to mention political things if I don’t know the other person shares my views. Usually it’s not too hard since I’m an independent who can find fault in both parties. One neighbor doesn’t filter anything (and is on the opposite side of political and religious debates). I learned it the hard way when she was “breaking news” to someone else by calling peaceful protests “riots.” I couldn’t let that slide, so I pointed out the difference. She then asked where I got my news, saying, “You can’t trust mainstream media. I get my news from the internet!” I said I followed all kinds of news sources radio, TV, print, online, even social media…but decided to remind her that I pretty much am part of mainstream media. We agreed to disagree, politely.

    Business wise, on election day 2008 Favorite Editor left a voicemail to discuss an assignment. I called her back and apologized for missing her call and told her I’d been voting. She expressed her excitement about the history that could be made that night. Then she said, “Oh. Sorry. I shouldn’t have said that. I have no idea if you share the same opinion.” I said, “I do—even if it means I’ll lose a good Senator.”

    Yes. I know I’ve been a bit too active on Twitter lately. Thankfully I’ve seen dozens of my editors and clients doing the same, and thankfully we tend to share the same beliefs. That said, in the last day or two I’ve been trying to “like” more than “retweet” political tweets (ones that I can’t ignore, that is) so I don’t clutter my feed with too many polarizing tweets. And then Jenn goes and tweets something I have to respond to….LOL!

    • Paula Hendrickson January 26, 2017 at 12:10 pm

      Correction: I decided NOT to remind my neighbor that I work in media.

    • lwidmer January 26, 2017 at 3:43 pm

      It is quite a temptation, isn’t it? I haven’t ever discussed politics with clients, though one hinted at her affiliation recently (and I did agree with it). But I let it slide as she was clearly trying hard not to talk about it.

      I sometimes share my opinion on Twitter, though only my knee-jerk reaction, which probably isn’t the best kind of opinion. On Facebook, I will like something, but I try VERY hard not to say anything. Many of my friends don’t share my views. And frankly, many of them don’t mind telling everyone all too frequently how stupid my party is. Why I hold my tongue: I won’t be the one to ruin a friendship over something as ridiculous as politics.

      Mind you, if they want to put politics over friendship, I’m happy to leave their orbit (and I have on five occasions this week alone). I won’t put up with people who refuse to use facts (or believe them) or people who find it okay, as adults, to resort to name-calling.

  • Devon Ellington January 27, 2017 at 10:23 am

    While I agree with most of what you’ve said, at the same time, I don’t take on clients that advocate for values/work I feel is vile. I’ve turned down big money because the campaign was AGAINST what I believe in. I turned it down as graciously as possible, but I am not going to accept money from someone who is actively working to hurt the environment, deny people healthcare, etc. Not worth it to me.

    • Paula Hendrickson January 27, 2017 at 12:03 pm

      Good point, Devon.

    • lwidmer January 30, 2017 at 9:12 am

      Oh, I totally agree, Devon. There are things I don’t think we should abide, and like you, mine is the environment and basic human needs. Luckily, the only client opposition I’ve had to overlook is their own loud proclamations on social media — things I think are ill-informed and short-sighted. Their “rah rah” for their side is so unprofessional. But unless they’re directly mentioning things I oppose vehemently, I’m able to overlook.

      I wonder if I should sometimes. Such a fine line we walk these days.

  • Kirk Petersen March 17, 2017 at 11:07 am

    I used to maintain a blog where I wrote primarily about national and international politics and affairs. I enjoyed doing it, I thought I had something to contribute, and it represents the biggest sustained writing project I’ve ever pursued (500+ posts in 5+years).

    But I’ve taken the blog down. I’ve been unemployed or underemployed for nearly a decade now, and I’ve been disappointed so many times that the very idea of job-hunting stomps on my soul. I’m afraid to take a chance on people disagreeing with my politics while they are considering me for a job. I had an actual meat-space former colleague unfriend me on Facebook because he disagreed with me on healthcare policy. So now I deny myself a writing outlet that I used to love.

    I used to tell myself that I wouldn’t want to work for someone who would disqualify me because of my politics — but that’s nonsense, on two levels. First, in the short-run at least, I would much rather have a job that I hate than be unemployed. (Thirty years ago I would have said the opposite.) Second, there may be very few people who would consciously pass me over because of my politics, but there are a hell of a lot more who would disagree however mildly with my politics, then subconsciously look for other reasons to chose someone else. And there are always plenty of someone elses.

    I’m trying to find a way to end this comment on a positive note — I guess I’ll fall back on the old reliable, a gratitude list. I’m safe and healthy and in love with my wife. We have a comfortable house in a nice neighborhood with a five-figure mortgage (and no other debt). We have healthcare coverage through my wife’s employer. We’re not nearly as well prepared for retirement as we should be at our age, but we’re not missing payments on anything. There are 7 billion people in the world, and 6 billion or more of them would trade places with me in a heartbeat.

    So there’s that.

    • lwidmer March 22, 2017 at 9:22 am

      Kirk, I loved your blog, and I’m sorry it’s gone.

      But you’ve hit on it — there’s too much bias right now. While yours was one of the most measured, thoughtful blogs on topics I didn’t always agree with, you were smart to see it as a potential road block. I myself have at times written things, including tweets, that I think will come back to bite me.

      Just because you’re not writing about politics doesn’t mean you can’t channel that energy elsewhere. You’re much too good a writer to stop.

      And you do have a lovely wife and nice life. Good for you for seeing the blessings in front of you. 🙂