Good morning, Highlanders! Given the upcoming election, navigating a potentially awkward conversation about politics at work is inevitable. What if you have strong political opinions or if you’re the person who only watches the debates and typically stays away from political conversations? In either case these conversations can make one or more people uncomfortable. How do you navigate this conversation? How do you get out of the conversation if it starts down a negative path? Melody Wilding who is a contributor on Forbes.com wrote this article on October 10, 2016 and gives some great tips for these potentially awkward conversations. I will be inserting my comments in italics.
Politics is already a sensitive subject at the office. The touchiness has been amplified during this tumultuous campaign season. Yet whether it’s in the office, during happy hour or even on social media, the election will likely come up.
Although it’s easier said than done, plenty of experts maintain you should never discuss politics at work under any circumstances. After all, it can be divisive. You’re talking about people’s world views, how they believe the country should be run and in many cases the best ways for people to live their lives.
Many of my clients have anxiety not only about the election itself with its polarizing personalities and hot-button issues, but also about whether they should entertain political discussions at work. And if so, how?
Here’s what to do and what not to do when it comes to discussing political issues with colleagues.
DO ask for permission.
It’s an easy step to forget: always ask for permission before launching into a touchy topic. Everyone has different boundaries around discussing sensitive issues. Don’t make the mistake of getting caught up in rigid thinking and assume your co-workers have the same broaching the topic of politics as you do. *Even if you are sure they share the same opinions as you, there may be someone around the office area who has an opposing view point and when talking about this, be aware of your surroundings and who you might make uncomfortable during the conversation.
To set the groundwork for a healthy, productive dialogue, you might say, “I’m not trying to change your mind. I see this issue very differently and I’d like to understand. Would it be okay to spend a few minutes talking through our perspectives?” *If other people are around when you’re voicing your opinion, you are bound to get some interesting questions about the topics that you’re discussing. Which leads into the next tip.
DO know your facts (and admit when you don’t).
In the heat of the moment, you might feel an urge to spit out some compelling sound bites you saw online while scanning the headlines without relevant information to back it up. But blustering through an ill-informed argument will only do damage to future conversations. It certainly won’t win you points in the current one. *This is where I think many people go wrong when they start a political conversation, they only scratch the surface of knowledge on the issue that they’re discussing. If you’re going to start a conversation about an issue, make sure you know all the facts and feel confident in answering questions that others are more than likely going to ask you. A conversation based in fact will be more well received in all issues and topics.
There’s nothing wrong with admitting you aren’t up to speed on a particular issue. Try saying, “Wow, interesting! I’d like to do more research on this today after work. Can we pick this conversation up tomorrow?” *I love this idea! Doing more research and showing your interest is a great way to keep a conversation going, especially if you want the conversation to continue.
DO know your triggers–and watch for them.
Politics can be personal for many people, maybe even for you. You might have strong feelings about a woman’s right to choose. Perhaps your family was affected by immigration policies firsthand.
Whether it’s around certain issues or the candidates themselves, be mindful about where your own triggers are. This type of self-awareness can help you regulate your emotions rather than lose control and do something unprofessional that you’ll regret, like yelling or saying something nasty to a colleague. *Self-awareness is key when discussing any sensitive subject. If you know you can’t control yourself, you better try your absolute hardest not to speak on that subject, most importantly while you’re at work.
It’s also easier than you might think to use a discussion of politics to project other problems you have with a colleague. Don’t let a discussion of U.S. political news slip into a discussion of office politics instead.
If you do find yourself feeling frustrated, don’t place ownership of your frustrations onto your co-workers by saying, for instance, “You’re making me frustrated.” If you feel like you need to express that idea, reword it to take more responsibility when you say something like, “I feel frustrated.” This takes away the accusatory tone and opens it up for your colleague to empathize.
DO frame it as a learning opportunity.
If you decide to enter into a political conversation with a colleague, think of it as a chance to learn from one another, not change each other’s views. Being interested in someone else’s thought process can be a great reason to engage in a political discussion.
Try saying something along the lines of, “I know what I think about healthcare, but I’m curious why you feel so differently. Would you be open to sharing your position with me?” Just make sure that in the back of your mind you’re not secretly hoping you’ll convert your co-worker. *Be genuine when you ask them to explain their opinion to you and really try to listen for understanding. Maybe you’ll learn something you didn’t know about your opposing view.
DON’T stand for disrespect.
It’s completely possible for people to have opposing viewpoints without stooping to derogatory comments.
When emotions are running high, a disagreement over political philosophies can deteriorate into personalized attacks. Before that happens, the best option is to agree to disagree—and then get back to work.
If you can sense a discussion going south, try saying, “The tone of this conversation is not appropriate for work. It’s not heading in a good direction, so let’s agree to drop it” After that, either excuse yourself to another conversation or leave the room.
You can also redirect the conversation by saying something like, “I’m honestly overwhelmed by all this election coverage. Let’s talk about something else.” *When the conversation gets ugly, it’s best to redirect the conversation before someone says something that they don’t necessarily mean.
DON’T assume you’re off the clock when you’re on social media.
Social media is a powerful tool to keep in touch and maintain connections, and it’s become an important aspect of today’s working relationships.
Though you’re (hopefully) not at work when you’re using social media, make sure you do a quick check-in with yourself before you post or comment on anything political. Picture your coworkers seeing it. Imagine it possibly serving as a catalyst to an in-person office discussion. Are you okay with that? *Also be sure that you understand where your company’s position is on anything political. Many companies have policies in place for their employees and you don’t want to think you’re posting an opinion on your Facebook, Instagram or Twitter and then suddenly your employer is in trouble because you accidentally posted a position on their official channels. You are a representation of your company and anything that you post on your social media channels, can and will get back to your employer. You don’t want to be that person fired or reprimanded for not following the company policy about politics in the workplace. I would suggest always being positive in your posts if you’re at all worried things could go south at your place of work, and ALWAYS use LinkedIn for business/professional content rather than a political platform. Ask your Human Resources or media departments for policies and procedures if you’re unsure.
In the end, agree to disagree if need be.
It can be very tricky to navigate this fraught political season. But when handled correctly, these discussions with your colleagues can be enlightening and even fun—no matter which side of the political aisle you’re on.