By Andrea Murad
It’s a potentially dangerous topic at the dinner table, but about the water cooler? We examine talking politics at work.
Politics may be an appropriate topic depending on the nature of your work, but even so, whether you’re figuring out political risk for a transaction or chatting with colleagues during lunch, you want to maintain good working relationships. Disagreements with the wrong person could be detrimental to your career.
Sometimes these conversations are unavoidable, like an election, protest, vote, indictment, tweet, or anything else that’s been in the headlines that day.
Whether it’s anger, tears, or laughs, these days, politics brings out many different emotions that can disrupt the workplace. Here are tips for what to do if you find yourself in the middle of a political tête-à-tête.
What do you do if the topic comes up?
Whether in or out of the office, be sure to keep your guard up and to establish boundaries. Also, that time spent talking politics is time spent not finishing projects and daily tasks. Before engaging in any conversation, be sure to know your company’s policies – a conversation that escalates could violate policies against bullying and harassment.
Keep it calm and interesting
To keep the conversation friendly and respectful, ask questions to engage the other person and understand their differing opinions. Being curious is also the best way to learn from these discussions and about an opposing view rather than risk driving a wedge between you and your colleague because you’ve attempted to convince them otherwise.
Tone down partisanship
Politics is hard to ignore especially after a big event. Rather than shut down the conversation, attempt to discuss the topic as a neutral party by exploring all sides. By keeping your opinions out of the conversation, it will avoid becoming a contentious lecture or debate.
While trying to stay neutral is important, don’t change your views depending on whom you’re talking to as well. By toning down partisanship, you’ll be better able to deflect the conversation to a neutral subject such as the process and not the candidates.
You and your colleague may want the same goals in the end, but there could be different paths to get there. Recognizing that you have common ground is a good starting point and can help you exit smoothly from the conversation if necessary.
Notice social cues
You likely know which way your colleagues lean on particular topics. If you hold opposing views on a subject, think twice before engaging with that person as this conversation could have consequences. Opposing views are more likely to lead to a debate.
Learn from politicians
You may be asked to speak in front of a camera or to a journalist one day as part of your job. Politicians provide great examples for what to do and what not to do – exploring how they present their ideologies to the public and what works and doesn’t work may help give you the edge during your next presentation.
Some issues have been debated for decades, and time hasn’t necessarily healed the wounds. The best strategy is to avoid the discussion completely, but if a colleague persists, attempt to steer towards a less sensitive topic.
Know when to fold them
No matter your effort, you may not be able to find areas of agreement in a conversation. When a conversation becomes too heated for the workplace, that’s the cue to change the conversation.
A few key phrases can help alleviate the tension, like “We need to agree to disagree” or suggesting a subject change if a co-worker persists. If all else fails, consider excusing yourself to get back to your desk, because saying “I have to get back to work” won’t offend anyone.
Diplomacy is about being respectful, no matter how off kilter you may think the other side is. Watch your body language and be calm and collected so that the other person doesn’t feel threatened. “I hear you.” “I understand.” “That’s an interesting point.” Using those neutral phrases to validate another person’s viewpoint and their right to an opinion is key.
No matter how much you may try, the discussion can still go in the wrong direction. A quick chat with your colleague to make sure no one was offended can reinforce the relationship.
This article was originally published in CA Today.