The do’s and don’ts of talking politics at work
Anyone who’s ever been in a heated political argument with an opinionated uncle or aunt at Thanksgiving knows the perils of a political discussion. And with the U.S. Inauguration Day just around the corner, political talk has never been more fraught. According to a recent 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.
So, how do you cover what will inevitably be a topic of discussion, without starting a bitter debate with coworkers? Read on for the do’s and don’ts of talking politics at the office.
DO: Disagree diplomatically
Surprisingly, VitalSmarts’ survey found that people would rather talk to someone they disagree with who speaks respectfully, rather than someone who shares their views but expresses them belligerently. “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.
DON’T: Lie about your beliefs to conform
Sure, sometimes it seems easier to take the path of least resistance. But lying about what you believe 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.”
DO: Focus on common ground
It might be hard to believe, but you might share some ideological similarities even with people at the opposite of the political spectrum. Locate those common threads and use them to weave 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.”
DON’T: Try to change the other person’s mind
After thousands of hours of cable news reports, most people’s opinions are pretty strongly held by now. If you try to “convert” your conversation partner, you may come off as preachy or condescending. “Give up the desire to proselytize to someone with a different opinion,” Grenny said.
DO: Ask for permission
Simply asking if it’s OK to express your dissenting opinion goes a long way, Grenny said. “People feel psychologically different when they give permission to share our point of view.” And with respect to the president-elect, don’t build walls in the conversation. Listen and try to be understanding.
DO: Plan an escape route
No matter how carefully you communicate, some political discussions are simply bound to get heated. If that’s the case, be sure to recognize it and find 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 bring the subject back to a work matter (or worst case, start looking for another job!).