Social Manners: Five tips on Talking Politics in the Workplace

With the presidential race heating up, politics is a hot topic. Many of us have strong opinions, making for a tricky subject to navigate in the workplace or at a dinner party. You may think you know where your supervisor stands on the issues, but what if you are way off base?  Simply not a risk worth taking, especially if  you can’t keep your emotions in check or have a “thin skin,” feeling uncomfortable or even irate when your views are challenged.

As a general rule, it’s a good idea to keep your political preference private in the workplace.  That said, if you find yourself in the middle of a political debate with no graceful out, here are a few tips to talk politics in the office in a respectful, courteous manner:

  1. Don’t be the first one to bring it up and always have an exit strategy. If someone else brings the subject up and asks for your opinion, either opt out by saying “I’d prefer we chat about another topic” or tell them where you stand. There’s no shame in having a strong opinion, only voicing it in an inappropriate manner. Keep it short and sweet and let others fill up the space. If things get heated or you find your blood pressure rising, take a hike. End the conversation by saying, “I better get back to work – thanks for sharing your views.”
  2. Respect the opinions of others.  Listen intently to what someone else has to say. Just as you have your own personal beliefs, it’s important to allow others to have their own opinions and voices even if they differ from yours.
  3. Know the basics. If you venture into a political discussion, at least know who is running and what party they represent. Don’t let “facts” from an email someone forwarded you or comments from a late night talk show host be your prime source of information.
  4. Keep it civil and make it a true conversation. Don’t let a political discussion escalate into an argument with a coworker. Watch your language and keep the conversation cordial. Remember that at the end of the day, these are your office mates. Listen and learn about differing opinions rather than simply trying to let others know where you stand: “I’m interested in your thoughts on that. Can you elaborate?”
  5. Think twice before wearing a button or campaigning in the workplace – it comes across as unprofessional and unsophisticated and may even be against company guidelines. When you are representing your company to clients — especially ones who may not share your views — you are taking the risk of alienating important contacts. The same goes for soliciting and bumper stickers. The workplace is not the place to campaign for your favorite candidate (save it for your personal time).

One final point: Never assume you know where others stand in their political beliefs. Based on your industry, the socioeconomic backgrounds of your coworkers or other factors, you may mistakenly assume that “everybody” shares the same view as yours. Avoid making sweeping, disparaging statements of a political nature — “Did you see what that clown said yesterday?” — or you may find out the hard way where your boss, colleagues and clients stand.

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Diane Gottsman

Diane Gottsman is a national modern manners and etiquette expert, sought out industry leader, accomplished speaker, Huffington Post blogger, author, and the owner of The Protocol School of Texas, a company specializing in executive leadership and etiquette training. Diane is routinely quoted in national and international media including The New York Times, The BBC, CNN, Bloomberg Business Week, Kiplinger’s, Huffington Post Canada, U.S. News and World Report, and Forbes. Her blog has been named by Forbes as one of “The 100 Best Websites for Women, 2013.” She is a regular guest on two popular morning talk shows, SA Living, NBC, and Good Day Austin, FOX. She has been seen on TODAY with KLG and Hoda, HLN Headline News, and CBS Sunday Morning. Her clients range from university students to Fortune 500 companies and her workshops cover topics ranging from tattoos in the workplace to technology at the dinner table and the proper use of social media.

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