Business or Politics. Pick One.

I frequently listen to music as I work. For almost three years my music source of choice was the online service Pandora. Until two weeks ago. I’m done with Pandora; I’ve replaced it with Songza, which so far seems great.

Here’s why.

Pandora operates on the “fremium” model, which means you can get their basic service, with commercials, at no charge, or you can pay a small fee for premium service and skip all the ads. For all this time I haven’t minded the ads: it’s the same model of commercial radio I grew up with, but fewer ads and more choice. It’s fair. Who could complain?

Until the political attack ads started. Mind you, from both parties. Democrats bashing Republicans, Republicans bashing Democrats, all paid for by superpac money, which if you’ve noticed means their level of vitriol is typically through the roof, their burden of proof nonexistent.

Let’s pause here. I am a dedicated member of one of the two main American political parties. While I find both or this year’s remaining candidates yawn-inspiringly moderate, I would very much prefer one in particular to win this November – more for who he can nominate to the Supreme Court than any policy differences we’ll see between them.

However, I don’t think this blog, or my other social media outlets, are the right places for me to preach my politics. You see, I know that a lot of my closest online friends and followers disagree with me politically. That’s okay – even good! If we don’t engage each other in respectful discussion, this republic that I love so much is going to divide itself ever further. If we live in an echo chamber of our own opinions we won’t grow, and personally, I can’t imagine anything duller than that – or worse for the health of our democracy.

I count myself a business expert, not a political expert. My readers look to me for guidance in the first, not the second. If the values I espouse in business bleed over into their political lives, all the better. But I’ll let that happen or not as each person decides.

So back to Pandora. I found both candidates’ ads offensive, though of course one much more so. But it wasn’t until my seven year old remarked on an ad that I really got my dander up. With big eyes and a terribly worried face, she stood at my office door and said,

“Daddy, is [one candidate] really trying to destroy America?”

Really, Pandora? Really, local doctors, whose waiting room TVs are often turned to a very partisan “news” station? Really, bombastic business colleague?

Folks, our nation is currently divided fifty-fifty Democratic-Republican. That means that for every potential customer who sees eye-to-eye with you in the upcoming election, another will be repulsed by your brand of politics. Even in solid “red” or solid “blue” areas, there is usually a quiet minority of 1/3 who disagrees.

Business leaders, can you afford to alienate half or even a third of your potential customers? I don’t know about you, but if I lost 50% of my business, my family would suffer. Are you that rich, that you don’t think it matters who you piss off?

I look to my favorite actors and musicians to entertain me.  I look to my business icons to tell me how to run a company better. I look to my doctor to fix what ails me, or keep me working right in the first place. And I I look to my favorite brands to sell me the stuff I need or want.

What I don’t look to any of these specialists to do is step outside their area of expertise and try to sell me their political ideas – especially when those ideas take the form of hate. Life is too short to pollute it with destructive political acrimony.


I know a lot of you disagree with what I’ve just written. Let me have it in the comments. I’m no oracle – Much as I hate to admit it, I’ve been wrong once or twice, and I’m sure it’ll happen again.

Graphic by Josue G

Ted Coiné is a Forbes Top 10 Social Media Power Influencer and an Inc. Top 100 Leadership and Management Expert. This stance at the crossroads of social and leadership put him in a unique perspective to identify the demise of Industrial Age management and the birth of the Social Age. The result, after five years of trend watching, interviewing and intensive research, is his latest book, A World Gone Social: How Companies Must Adapt to Survive, which he co-authored with Mark Babbitt. An inspirational speaker and popular blogger, Ted is a pioneer of the Human Side of Business (#humanbiz) movement. He is also a serial business founder and three-time CEO. When not speaking at conferences and corporate functions, Ted advises CEOs on how to become Truly Social Leaders, or “Blue Unicorns” as they put it in A World Gone Social, in order to bring their companies into the Social Age. Ted’s advice: “Change is only scary if it’s happening to you. Instead, bring the change your competitors dread. That is something only a Social Age business leader can accomplish.”

  • Steve Borek

    I’m an apolitical independent who votes every year. This means I’m not passionate about politics.

    Though, I never miss the evening election returns. I enjoy watching the pundits banter back and forth.

    After listening to all sides, the truth is somewhere in the middle.

  • Pam McAllister

    I’ve wrestled with this question, too. And I understand where you’re coming from.

    What I’ve observed is that many liberal-minded businesspeople avoid talking politics from fear of losing business, while right-wingers feel perfectly free to state their minds and let the chips fall where they may. (Don’t know which you are, just making an observation.)

    What I’ve decided is that I cannot sit by while the right wing dismantles the social structures that make broad prosperity — including my prosperity — possible. That’s what’s at stake these days, it seems to me.

    Important question, indeed.


  • Bill Quiseng

    Couldn’t agree with you more. If I am going to be employed by someone else, while there are certain benefits and privileges I receive, there are certain responsibilities and obligations. One of the responsibilities of working for someone else is to help build the business. To offend a customer would certainly not do that. When I was a general manager of luxury resorts, I would tell our team “The customer is paying for his experience, not ours.” While we wanted them to interact with our guests, there were three things that they should not discuss: religion, politics and the weather (“Too bad it’s raining today. You should have been here last week. It was perfect.”) No need to create a potential dissatisfier when one didn’t exist before. P.S. I listen to Spotify. No such commercials . . . yet.

  • Pam McAllister

    Just want to add another quick thought or two …

    I seriously question the assumption that people won’t do business with you because of your politics.

    For years, I had a far-right-wing business advisor. He was very open about his politics, which of course being a liberal myself I disliked, but he was a smart guy with a lot to offer. So I stuck with him, paid him buckets of money, and got great value.

    When he went full birther, I decided that was too much (questionable judgment!) and we parted ways.

    Reasonable people can disagree. If someone is so offended by my politely expressed liberal political views that they don’t want to work with me … do I want to work with them?

    Showing more of yourself — expressing strong opinions — can make you much more interesting to clients, even if they disagree with you. That was a big lesson I learned from my former business advisor. (Expressing outright crazy opinions is another thing.)

    And now I’ve written enough for a blog post of my own. ;)


  • Aliza Earnshaw

    Such a good blog post, and such great discussion. I often struggle with whether to express my political views publicly. I allow myself the luxury of doing it on Twitter from time to time, but I always have qualms.

    I love what Pam said in her second comment, though I suspect that some people can be turned off early in their acquaintance with another person by political views they don’t agree with…and then you might be losing the opportunity to know, work with and enjoy a special and talented person whose political views you don’t agree with. So I still struggle.

  • margie clayman (@margieclayman)

    This is definitely a tricky issue, Ted. The only thing that might be more touchy is religion and business.

    My dad has had relationships with clients for years, and they will often discuss/argue about politics. It hasn’t affected the business relationship. However, that relationship was in progress and they had known each other for years by that point.

    That being said, I don’t think blogs are the best place to spout off on your political leanings – I am most free to share things I believe on Facebook because it’s a bit less…formal, maybe. I really enjoy talking politics and so long as the conversation can remain civil, (a big if, sadly) I think everybody can learn a lot. The problem is that when we enter into the online world we are ready to be bashed, and that means a person who thinks different than us or who maybe attacks our point of view gets categorized as a basher almost instantaneously. This makes conversation about volatile topics nearly impossible.

    Great post!

  • Ted Coine

    Thanks for weighing in, Margie! As you can see from my reply to Aliza just above, I’m with you precisely – on FB, you can quickly tell which party I support and (sometimes) why. It is less formal, absolutely.

    The online world… unfortunately, the written media and the ability to be anonymous strip away a lot of civility. That is one big reason to avoid the discussion of politics if your “persona” is business-oriented. Not everyone’s is, and if so, then go for it!

    My Dad was a moderate Republican, back when there was such a thing, living in liberal Connecticut as I was growing up. He never hid his views at all, and as you can imagine given the setting, most of his friends disagreed with him. That was a more civil time in our nation’s discourse, but it was also, as you say, a matter of friends first, then politics. I gained a lot by growing up in that environment.

    (And for the record, my Mom was a moderate Democrat, though I remember fewer of her friends being conservative. Still, these two influences were outstanding intellectual training for me. They agreed on nearly every point, yet one voted Dem., the other Rep. I find identity politics fascinating: it’s more tribe, less philosophy, than we care to believe.)

  • Anita Nelam


    As someone who spent more than 30 years working in politics, this is a question that greatly concerns me. I am an independent Democrat and I vote for the person whom I believe is best for the office, no matter the party. So I have voted for Republicans in the past and may in the future, should I move out away from South Carolina to a more “purple”state.

    The level of vitriol in politics today is both shocking and disheartening and I have reached the conclusion that I need to speak out against it. Yes, I am an Obama supporter and proud to be one. No one, but especially the POTUS, should have to suffer what he has experienced since being sworn in. And yes, I felt the same way and said so about former President George W. Bush.

    I do not know how we are expected to raise a patriotic generation when some people constantly attack institutions, and frankly the values, of a country that we should revere.

    However, when it gets really bad (back to music) I listen to a song by country singer Dierks Bentley called Home. In it, in part he sings,

    “Red, how the blood ran red
    And we laid our dead in sacred ground
    Just think, wonder what they think
    If they could see us now

    It’s been a long hard ride
    And I won’t lose hope
    This is still the place
    That we all call home”

    No matter how ugly the election season gets, and because both our ancestors and our children deserve better from us, I will not lose faith because as the song says, this is the place we all call home.

  • Mike Masin

    Ted, you nailed this one. I vote, I’m registered with one of the two parties, and I love to talk politics and policy. But not at work, and not in my social stream. These discussions are worthy of face time, coffee and other beverages of choice, and disagreement with an opinion, a smile and respect. There isn’t any justification for fact-less bashing by any candidate or their supporters.

  • MJ Gottlieb

    Excellent post. I choose your business advice! lol

    One of the things that disturbs me on a very high level is that there is no such thing as Bi-Partisan anymore. What makes businesses, countries, relationships, and really anything great is the ability to fill in strengths where the other is weak and vice versa.

    Right now all we seem to be saying is what the other group is doing wrong as opposed to trying to figure out what a good strategy would be to make things right. I think business and politics are very much alike in this sense. This is why the majority of business acquisitions in business are what they call ‘strategic alliances’ because they understand the business they are investing in and how they can transition the company they buy to the next level. But they stick to what they know (mainly). This is probably why I have yet to see a Fashion Brand in New York buy a chicken farm in Oklahoma! lol

    One last thing that probably gets under my skin more than it should are friends that know I am favorable to the opposite party as them that send my tweets on how “horrible” my party is with a message saying, “See this? How can you believe this?”… U wanna talk politics constructively, fine, otherwise, let me live my life! Great post Ted :-)

  • TedCoine

    Update 9/15/13: I’m back to Pandora, and I love it – especially now that they have full-length classical albums, which somehow I’ve started choosing over my Nirvana and NIN. (Wait… I’m my father!!!)

    Anyway, the business or politics thing? I feel that more strongly than ever.

  • Ted Coine

    Steve, I agree with you there on both counts: first, that the pundits are fun to watch (politics is my second spectator sport, after football), and second, that the truth lies in the middle on just about every issue. What are the chances that one party or the other is correct all the way down the line?

    When I said both of this year’s presidential candidates are yawn-inspiringly moderate… there are times when a strong reset is called for, rather than a gentle tweak: war and depression (with a lower-case d) both come to mind. But in general? Yes, I’m with you on the “let’s reel it in, folks” idea.

    Thanks for joining the conversation!

  • Ted Coine

    Pam, I’m not going to argue with you at all: I’ve observed this where I live, in Southwest Florida, a 2/3 conservative area. Everyone here assumes you’re conservative till you state otherwise, which leads to some… um… interesting conversations. I wonder: do you live in a largely conservative region, too?

    We moved from Massachusetts almost 7 years ago, which is roughly a 2/3 liberal state. There, the same assumption worked the other way: you were assumed liberal till you spoke up, if you chose to.

    I think it would be nice to live in a 50/50 spot for a while, but I never have. Such is the socio-political divide these days. It’s unfortunate. People miss out by only spending time with like-minded friends.

  • Ted Coine

    Bill, the weather – that hadn’t occurred to me, but when you’re running a resort, yes, it makes perfect sense!

    Politics and religion: that’s exactly right. It’s how I was brought up (weren’t we all?) The third verboten topic was income, but some day I’ll post on why we need to bring that out in the open.

    “The customer is paying for his experience, not ours.” I’ve never heard it put so well. Thank you! That sums up the customer service ethic, without question!

  • Ted Coine

    Pam, you make a good point and I agree wholeheartedly, except for this observation: one person’t “completely reasonable” is another person’t “outright crazy.” We’re in politically polarized times – the worst it’s been in America in several generations, if my history books serve me right. Finding a “normal” that everyone can agree upon isn’t as easy as it was, say, 12 years ago.

    (Side note: the period after the Revolution, especially the 1790s, and the period leading up to the Civil War, are the only two examples I can think of when voters were this divided. History is only my hobby, not my vocation, though. I’m sure there were a couple more times as contentious as this.)

  • Ted Coine


    While I don’t visit FaceBook often at all, I let my politics show a lot more there. And to be clear, there’s a world of difference, in my mind anyway, between work and leisure. For a business to be political is unprofessional. For a person to be, when they represent themselves and not their work: that’s just authentic. I would never suggest that we shut up about who we really are! Just… everything in its place.

    I’m lucky to have found a group of friends here in Naples, a discussion group, that is composed of some very outspoken thinkers who fall all along the political spectrum. My conservative and liberal friends will sit beside each other at a meal or meeting and hash it out, respectfully but passionately. I wish more people had venues like this!

  • Ted Coine

    I love it, Anita. You won’t get any argument from me. The level of disrespect in politics today is shocking. It heartens me, in times such as ours, to read about the public ‘discourse’ (really smear campaigns) of the 1790s: our Founding Fathers and the founding pamphleteers took both gloves off and really gave it to each other! If you think of the stakes back then, when we really hadn’t settled into nationhood yet at all… well, it gives me hope.

    Two other things that give me hope: the peaceful transition of power from one political party to the other and back again in 2001 and 2009. In the first instance, some hold that the Supreme Court overstepped its bounds by ruling on Bush v Gore, but the Clinton Administration didn’t intervene. In 2008, it would have been possible – not easy, but possible – for the Bush administration to try to hold onto power by fabricating a national emergency of some type to keep control of the White House – if real life were like a Hollywood movie; if real life bore closer resemblance to what some of our political pundits have to say on Sunday morning TV.

    Fortunately, for all the hate, we’re much stronger than that as a nation. It gives me strength to stomach what we’re going through right now. Hopefully there will be a public backlash against the media powers stirring the pot, and we’ll calm down as a people again. …Calm down, and start showing each other some common respect.

  • Ted Coine

    I live it, Mike: you said in a couple of sentences what took me a whole blog post to express. Bravo!

    I have a challenge to leaders of any party: if you’re truly a leader, lead. Tell the allegedly-independent Superpacs that you won’t have them spreading hate in your name. Only then can we get back to constructive politics again.

    And folks: keep it for around the barbecue!

  • Ted Coine

    I’m so with you, MJ. Every few generations, it seems, America goes through this huge, ugly partisan rancor, then things settle back to a dull roar. We’re experiencing one of our ugliest times ever, but I take solace knowing it isn’t anywhere near as bad, for instance, as the mudslinging of the 1790s. Yet.

    Old school media companies have learned how to profit on stoking hatred and intolerance, and that’s just a shame. Change the station, folks. But instead we tune in. Oiy.

    You and your friends need to come to a truce, to draw a circle around politics and agree not to discuss it. That works for my next door neighbor and me. It’s really funny: the back of his car has three really nasty bumper stickers that try to smear my Presidential candidate, and mine has one in favor of said candidate. We’ll meet in our driveways and talk about our little kids, dogs, sports – and completely ignore those stickers facing us as we chat.

    I love the guy. We just disagree on politics. He and his wife each get a vote, as do Jane and I. So what?

  • MJ Gottlieb

    I hear ya my man. It’s funny though. Despite my amicable comments to refrain from any political discussions, my “friend” keeps reaching out to me, telling me, “how can you possibly think… etc etc”. I keep politely telling him I will not indulge. Then he starts sending me messages on SM streams. It’s a bit nuts. But I hear ya! Luckily, he’s in PA and I’m in NY so I don’t have to stare at his bumper stickers! Have a great day my man. :-)

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    In the Social Age, it’s how we engage with customers, collaborators and strategic partners that matters; it’s how we create workplace optimism that sets us apart; it’s how we recruit, retain (and repel) employees that becomes our differentiator. This isn’t a “people first, profits second” movement, but a “profits as a direct result of putting people first” movement.

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