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6 Tips for Talking Politics at the Office

Sponsored by Workopolis: No matter how hard you try, politics are hard to ignore these days, and navigating tricky political talk has never been more fraught.

According to a study by VitalSmarts co-founders Joseph Grenny and David Maxfield, nine out of 10 U.S. voters said the 2016 election was more polarizing and volatile than ever before – and it’s sad to say that things have only worsened since then.  

The consensus has generally been to steer clear of politics and religion at the office, but how do you avoid talking about things that dominate the news? If we’re being realistic, politics will be a topic of discussion at some point, so it’s important to understand how you and your employees can avoid bitter debates with coworkers.

Here are six tips on how to handle political talk at the office (and keep your sanity).

1. Always be diplomatic

One of the most surprising findings from the VitalSmarts’ survey was that people were actually fine speaking to someone they disagreed with politically. The key, however, was in how that person spoke. If the discussion stays respectful – no matter how much you might disagree – it can be just that: a discussion.

“Most of us think the only safe space to talk is with those who agree with us, and it’s just not true,” said Grenny.

2. Don’t conform

When you’re surrounded by people of a certain political persuasion, it can be very tempting to take the path of least resistance. But when it comes to your own sanity (and job satisfaction), this isn’t a healthy long-term strategy.

“A lot of people think being diplomatic is sugarcoating your opinions,” Grenny said. “But that’s not a meaningful conversation.

3. Seek out common ground

As hard as it might be to believe, you might actually have some ideological common ground with Bob from accounting. Even if he’s on the complete opposite side of the political spectrum, there are always common threads that you can use to weave some understanding.

“It’s totally possible two people with polar opposite positions have similar values,” Grenny said. “On immigration, maybe you both care about national security, and taking care of those with citizenship, and the disagreements are how we execute on those values.”

4. Forget about changing people’s minds

The real problem spot when talking politics is assuming that you can convince other people to change their mind. Don’t forget that these are often more than just opinions – they are firmly held beliefs. By trying to “convert” people, you can come across as condescending and rude.

“Give up the desire to proselytize to someone with a different opinion,” Grenny said.

5. Ask before dissenting

It might seem strange, but simply asking if it’s ok to express a differing point of view can really go a long way.  “People feel psychologically different when they give permission to share our point of view.”

Remember, though, that this goes both ways. If your co-worker is willing to listen to your point of view, return the favor.

6. Have a way out

No matter how understanding and polite you are, the simple fact is that there’s always a chance a political discussion will get heated. Recognize that and plan ahead: make sure you have an escape route (what Grenny calls the “off-ramp”).

“If it looks like it’s creating something that neither person wants, just stop. As soon as one of those signals occurs, say, ‘gosh, I think I’m getting a little too agitated, it looks like you’re not liking what you’re hearing from me, so let’s talk about the ball game.’ Then cut it off.”

And if that doesn’t work, you could always change the subject (or start looking for another job!).

About the author: Workopolis is Canada’s leading career site for job seekers and a leader in HR technology solutions for employers.

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