How to talk politics at work

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I want to gouge my eyeballs out every time I watch the debates. Each candidate is frustrating in his or her own right, and although I feel I should follow the campaigns and election coverage to stay informed, my soul is crushed with every news article, tweet, and speech I hear and read.But the worst part about politics is talking – or not talking – about it. I have deleted countless Facebook friends over the years and have gotten into some heavy debates with friends and family over specific candidates and their lies, plans, and beliefs. But since I spend most of my day and week at work, I want to talk about the politicians and campaigns with coworkers. But I fear the repercussions. I’ve always been told to never talk about religion or politics because it causes conflict, but it’s so hard to not bring it up over coffee or lunch.

Of course, it is possible to talk about politics without causing conflict (or getting fired), and it has everything to do with how you act. Here are 5 expert tips on how to talk politics civilly in the office.

1. Listen

"Listen to your colleagues thoughtfully versus reacting," says Dr. Karissa Thacker, executive coach and author of The Art of Authenticity. "The biggest problem with political discourse is there is no listening. Ask questions to understand why your colleagues think the way they do." If you hate a specific candidate but have a colleague who likes him, talk to her about why she feels that way because you may learn something. Listen and ask questions instead of interrupting or disagreeing so you can respectfully have a conversation about why your opinions differ.

2. Don't raise your voice

No one likes being yelled at, especially at work, so don’t do it when you’re having a disagreement with a colleague. "If someone feels comfortable sharing their views they might want to express their opinion in a charge neutral way," says Lynn Berger, career counselor and coach. However, that does not mean she has to yell or raise her voice to be heard. Use your inside voice while speaking to a coworker and show you respect his different thoughts and viewpoints by staying calm and not getting agitated.

3. Be respectful

"Allowing hot debates to occur on these topics around the office could very well make an employee feel uncomfortable — possibly even targeted or harassed — which can spell legal problems for the employer," says Nannina Angioni, a Labor & Employment attorney and partner for the Los Angeles-based law firm Kaedian LLP. If you’re talking politics with a colleague, be mindful of what you say. The workplace protects workers of every race, religion, and sexual orientation – all of which are protected under company anti-discrimination and harassment laws – so not only should you be respectful because it’s the right thing to do, but also because codes, regulations, and laws mandate it.

4. Be aware of your surroundings

While it’s important to be considerate and respectful of your colleagues, it’s also important to be mindful of where you work and what that may mean. "If you work for a nonprofit organization, realize that talking about politics at work can be sticky," says communication expert Lacy McNamee, Ph.D., an assistant professor in Baylor’s College of Arts & Sciences and researcher of dynamics within organizations, in an article on Baylor’s website. "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." If you’re disrespectful or too outspoken – especially if your viewpoints don’t align with your company’s beliefs – your political talk can cost you your job.

5. Excuse yourself

If you’re like me, you love political conversations and debates, but if you prefer staying away from the chatter, you can bow out gracefully and professionally. Matthew Randall, executive director of the Center for Professional Excellence at York College of Pennsylvania, suggests saying something like this: "I usually make it a rule not to discuss politics at work. I do need to tackle to some upcoming deadlines, so please excuse me. I'll catch up with everyone later."While some experts said "don’t" when asked how to talk politics in the office, it’s nice to know that it is possible if you do it professionally and respectfully. Like anything else, treat your colleagues the way you want to be treated while discussing politics (or religion, race, or any other tough topic) in the office and be cognizant of your surroundings and specific company rules. If you discuss politics with an open mind and heart, you might make a new friend this election season and possibly even learn a thing or two.

Image: Sean P. Anderson