With the past year being so divisive in the world of politics, tensions are running high throughout the country – so it isn’t surprising that political beliefs are a hot subject in and around the workplace. You may therefore have found yourself thrown into conversations or debates that got just a little too heated or left you feeling uncomfortable or even disrespected. On the other side of the spectrum, you may have been overly zealous when discussing such topics with co-workers because of your own passion. It isn’t easy to navigate these types of situations, but here are a few practical tips to help make it easier.
In general, politics don’t make for good workplace conversations. So, don’t start them and, whenever possible, don’t engage in them. Having said that, you spend a significant amount of time with your colleagues each week, so it’s only natural to want to discuss something you feel very strongly about with the people you spend the most time with. If that resonates, then move on to the next tip.
Always weigh the potential consequences of inserting yourself into political conversation. If the subject at hand is highly divisive, you may risk damaging work relationships, and the chances of changing a colleague’s mind about political points of view are slim. So, if you decide to enter a political conversation, don’t do it with the idea that you’ll change someone else’s opinion. Instead, consider the discussion as an opportunity to learn about other points of view, as a way to gain more insight and improve your own diplomacy skills.
Handling conversations with tact means that you remain open-minded and you listen carefully to answers given. Ask questions and, when you don’t agree, don’t immediately pull away from the conversation. Don’t be disrespectful in your verbal responses or, as best you can, in your body language. When you try to understand differing opinions, your world view expands, even if just by a little bit. If you feel as though a conversation is going poorly, you can say, “This isn’t heading in a good direction. I respect your opinion, so let’s just agree to disagree” and then get back to work.
Recognize that learning how to talk about politics in a productive manner may help you to handle other work-related conversations requiring finesse, such as disagreements about policy or peer performance reviews. Conversations that are difficult – such as those centered on controversial political topics – can ultimately benefit your ability to handle challenging interpersonal situations as long as you handle them with tact and learn from them.