Political relations today are more strained than they’ve ever been in recent memory. From moderates to firebrands, it seems that nearly everyone has an opinion that they can’t wait to share—even at work. The emotionally-charged nature of political opinion means that if we want to coexist in the workplace, we must acknowledge that there are professional, appropriate ways to discuss politics with coworkers. Factoring in others’ feelings is paramount, which is why the following suggestions will prove valuable to anyone seeking to spark a productive political dialogue on the job.
To avoid unnecessary arguments, some offices institute policies discouraging political expression, like wearing political clothing, decorating desks with campaign slogans, or even posting political statements on social media. Learn your organization’s guidelines to steer clear of potential confrontations with your coworkers and HR.
Spending time with coworkers outside of the office doesn’t necessarily leave them any more disposed to your political beliefs, especially if they don’t share your perspective. The relaxed atmosphere can help you both open up, but it’s important to take a diplomatic stance; in other words, unless you’re absolutely certain they share your sentiments, ease into the conversation with your coworker instead of diving into the political waters.
It’s not likely you’ll convert coworkers to your cause after a few short water cooler exchanges, so avoid preaching from the bully pulpit. Instead, try engaging with an open-ended question. You might start a great conversation by asking something to the effect of, “I’d love to get another perspective on this issue. What do you think?”
Certain issues can be so inflammatory or invoke such intense emotions that just about any attempt to discuss them will be sure to falter. Try to get a read on your coworkers before you delve into any sensitive subjects.
If blood pressures start to rise and the speaking volume turns loud, that’s your cue to walk away. Maintaining a friendly and productive office relationship is far more important than winning an argument or getting your point across to someone who doesn’t want to hear it. If a deflection doesn’t work, directly and politely stating that it’s time to end the conversation might be best.
America’s political zeitgeist may be divided, but as Nathan Sproul, managing director of Lincoln Strategy Group, notes in an article for The Hill, maintaining civil discourse enables us to respect each other’s differences and discover common ground. Having political conversations at work might not always be easy, but such talks are likely unavoidable, and they can be rewarding. To keep workplace relations civil while productively discussing today’s issues, one must be able to consider the merits of positions outside their own, which, incidentally, is an essential step in developing an open mind.