My son, Jason, has his first office job this summer, and he is learning a lot about navigating office politics and working with people that you may not particularly care for. One person that he has had trouble with is the guy with the big “Make America Great Again” Trump sign in his cubicle. Jason, being a big Bernie supporter, has pretty strong views about this year’s presidential election, and has so far avoided getting caught in heated debates about the national political scene.
With such a polarized election cycle and the constant flow of late-breaking news and sound bites coming across our computers and smartphones, the old rule of “don’t talk politics at work” is not very easy to abide by these days. Inevitably, many of us will find ourselves engaged in a conversation at work about national politics. Here are three tips I shared with Jason on what to do if you do get involved in talking politics:
- Approach the conversation with curiosity, not animosity – While we may think that we know everything about a person’s beliefs based on the candidate they support, we don’t. Jumping into a political discussion with your mind made up about the wrongness or stupidity of a viewpoint or the one solution to an issue will quickly derail the conversation. Asking questions to learn more about the person’s viewpoints and being genuinely open to hearing what they have to say will avoid a potentially damaging argument.
- Keep it light – There have been deeply emotional and personal issues of race, gender, and religion that have arisen in the political conversation this year. Those are not the kinds of topics you want to broach at work. Not only are they difficult (and dangerous) to discuss when you have opposing viewpoints, but you can also find yourself unintentionally treading into the dangerous territory of workplace harassment or discrimination. Stick with topics that you can talk about without risking harm.
- Don’t get trapped – You are not going to solve the nation’s ills or convert that Hillary Clinton supporter to back Donald Trump or that Donald Trump supporter to back Hillary Clinton by talking politics at work. If you find yourself going around and around in circles in your conversation or you sense that the discussion is getting too heated, don’t head down that rabbit hole. As quickly as you can, step away. If several people are in the conversation, excuse yourself and get back to work. If it’s a one-on-one debate, agree to disagree and move on. If the other person doesn’t seem to want to let it go, let them know that, while you appreciate a lively debate, you would rather not continue this line of conversation at work, given your divergent views and strong convictions.
For those of us who are political junkies, this presidential election has provided loads of fodder for discussion and debate. Talking politics with friends and family or those who we know for sure share our views is one thing, but having political conversations at work should be approached with care and caution. In November, we will know who our next president will be and the 24-hour political coverage will die down. While Jason will leave his summer job and not have to work side-by-side with the guy with the cubicle sign any more, the rest of us have to maintain effective work relationships long after Election Day. Being smart and aware when you find yourself talking politics at work will make sure that those relationships remain positively intact.
How have you handled political conversations at work?
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