Sparring over immigration reform, ISIS, and who should be in the White House can go quickly from casual to spirited to heated during water-cooler chats at work or in staff meetings.
The days of never discussing religion or politics in polite company are gone, given the increasing blurring of lines between our public and private lives—due in part to social media, says communication expert Lacy McNamee, Ph.D., an assistant professor in Baylor University's College of Arts & Sciences and researcher of dynamics within organizations.
While there are positives about openness, getting in a vocal free-for-all at work is not one. A toxic atmosphere can interfere with job duties, plus alienate coworkers or clients who overhear arguments.
McNamee offered these tips for keeping the peace when it comes to political discussions at work:
- Remember that you while you are entitled to your opinions, you also are entitled to keep them to yourself.
- Cliché or not, you can agree to disagree.
- If staff meetings turn into a snarly spat about politics, bosses should steer back to work issues.
- If you work for a nonprofit organization, know that talking at work about politics can be sticky. When nonprofits seek government grants, they need the support of legislators—even if those legislators are not the ones they would vote for. Being too outspoken could work to your organization’s detriment.
- Deflect arguments with what communication experts call strategic ambiguity. “This allows people to take a stand without being an advocate,” McNamee says. “One tactic is to invite people to share and talk. Interestingly, people who are very comfortable about talking may not ask what you think. We tend to be rather ego-centered, and others may assume we feel the same way they do.”
- Be diplomatic. Scoring a “win” in a debate is not worth sacrificing a good relationship with a coworker.
- Use humor to de-escalate a discussion—and be certain that your quip is not done at someone else’s expense.
- Direct the conversation to another topic.
- Remember—your voice is more effective at the polls than in the office.