By Lee Vikre | @LeeVikre
Your mom taught you not to talk about politics or religion at work. But with a historic and heated campaign in process, it’s nearly impossible to avoid political discussions. So how can you talk politics at work, and stay out of trouble with your co-workers, boss and HR?
Political views connect to strongly held personal beliefs. Presidential campaigns tap into emotional needs and connect to a vision for the future. No wonder people are so passionate about politics! There may be pitfalls in political discussions, but there is a bright side. If you can discuss politics at work without getting in trouble, you can handle other difficult situations at work, like performance reviews or workplace conflict. Think of political discussions as training for other tough conversations. With that in mind, the following guidelines are helpful not only for discussing the current campaigns, but handling any sticky situation at work.
Know the ground rules. Your company may have policies about wearing campaign T-shirts, putting up posters, fundraising, or using work time to post political messages. Even if your company gives you the latitude for political expression, consider if you’re going to annoy your boss, and if it’s worth the risk.
Understand that you won’t convert me. If you go into a political discussion with the goal of changing someone’s viewpoint, you’ll be disappointed. Just observe a few Facebook discussions and you’ll see the phenomenon; the more we try and influence someone else’s view, the more they dig in their heels. While the chances of swaying someone’s political opinion is slim, the chances of creating a division between you and your co-worker is high.
Be respectful. Judgments like “racist”, “idiot”, or “liar” are guaranteed to shut down dialogue and open a gash of resentment with those who hold different views. In order to keep communication open, listen to the other person’s views and summarize them without labels or names. Even better, try articulating their point of view. Just because you understand someone doesn’t mean you agree with them. “I can see that honesty in government is important to you”. Or, “You’re especially concerned about terrorism”. If can you show genuine respect in spite of the fact you think the other person is woefully wrong, you’ll learn a lot about negotiation.
Find some common ground. Chances are, even if your political views are completely opposite, you and your co-workers still have the best interests of the country and the community at heart. Put yourself on the same side to the extent you can. “We all want our country to be great, but we have different views of how to make that happen.”
Ask questions. Genuine curiosity will make the conversation more enlightening and more pleasant. You can ask, “I’m curious – how did you develop your view?” and then listen to the answer – without interrupting. Making the effort to understand a different, even opposing, point of view may not sway your vote, but it will make you a better educated person.
Ask permission to share your view. Once you’ve listened to their point of view, you might ask, “Is it okay if I share a different view?” Now you actually may have a chance of being listened to in return.
Know when it’s time to drop it. Some people can’t talk politics without blowing a fuse, regardless of how diplomatically you approach the subject. Don’t insist on having the last word, just change the subject. If you’re not comfortable with the discussion, say so.
About the Author
Lee Vikre – Hiring Jedi
A workplace culture maven, writer, and speaker, Lee Vikre has helped numerous companies develop “best company” cultures, gaining recognition at the local and national level. Lee has been called the Jedi Master of hiring because of her exceptional recruiting abilities and friendships with people who love Star Wars. Her favorite activities involve matching people with their dream jobs at award-winning best companies. Lee coaches CEOs but still hasn’t been able to train her three dogs not to bark during conference calls.