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Do’s and don’ts of talking politics at work

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Defusing the discussion

Jeffers notes the old advice about avoiding politics and religion around the dinner table holds true for work, too. However, passion sometimes overrides judgment, and workers wind up embroiled in a fiery debate without an easy way to extricate themselves.

For those times, Jeffers offers some do’s and don’ts for keeping the office political discussion civil.

  • Managers should lead by example. Set the tone from the top that it’s okay to have differing views and learn to respect others’ opinions. A discussion about politics can be just that — a discussion, not a debate. “For private employers, you might consider writing a company policy about discussing politics in the workplace. If you think a political discussion will be disruptive to work flow, put it in writing to clarify with your staff,” suggests Jeffers.
  • If you’ve said or done something that you think may have offended someone, the most important thing to do is apologize immediately and make sure your apology is sincere.
  • Discussing politics in the workplace should be low-key and appropriate for the occasion. You should avoid making a joke at someone else’s expense or saying something that could be viewed as offensive.
  • If you’re not engaged in the discussion but your work is still being disrupted, quietly and casually let the participants know that you’ve got a call coming up or that you’re trying to meet a deadline. They should definitely get the hint, and most of the time those types of reminders are received as a welcome opportunity to halt the conversation and get back to work.
  • If you’re a manager, it is best to tread lightly when discussing politics with your coworkers. A manager should not appear as though he or she is telling other employees how to vote.
  • Don’t debate or lecture. Try to approach the conversation in a lighthearted manner, if you must indulge in political talk. Instead of focusing on hot-button issues or opinions about political candidates, limit yourself to general comments or try to change the subject. For example, “The debates have been interesting to watch, it reminds me of House of Cards,” and then try to change the topic to avoid ending up in a heated debate.
  • Know when to walk away. If the discussion becomes confrontational, change the subject or express your preference to keep political discussions outside of the workplace. Remember, too, what you say to a colleague outside of work regarding political discussions may cause them to form an opinion of you at work.
  • Quite simply, don’t bring up politics. The best thing to do often is to not bring up politics at all. Instead, talk about what you did over the weekend, if you are looking forward to the holidays, or other non-political news.

“Regardless of where you work, some conversations may turn negative,” Jeffers says. “While you can’t control other employees’ actions, you can control your own. When in doubt, avoid these discussions at work.”

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