There are some things you simply shouldn't talk about at work. One of the cardinal rules is no discussion of religion, sex or politics. However, with the recent presidential election, many people have been struggling with how to talk about it without causing heated debates or risk offending those who have different beliefs. While it's appropriate to avoid conversations about politics most of the time, during such a hotly debated election, not talking about it is sort of like avoiding any talk of current events - it's really difficult.
This election had so many people divided on deeply personal issues, it's easy to see why talking politics is usually a bad idea. Since these issues are so consuming, they can often spread into office conversation. Added to that, we all share so much of our lives through social media, it's not uncommon to know exactly where your co-workers stand on issues. So, how can you talk about politics at work without stepping on anyone's toes, killing someone or getting fired? Should you simply pretend that there wasn't an election and that no one is busy watching what will happen next?
There is a point where taking politics at the office is simply unavoidable. If you have to go there, here are some ways to talk about it without losing your cool or your job:
Don't post any political messages. Posting political posters, buttons or campaign material is probably against your company's policies. Even if your company doesn't expressly forbid it, think twice before you put anything on your desk, cubicle or person that indicates your preference for a particular candidate or policy change. Although it's normal to want to share your enthusiasm, you risk alienating those who don't share your convictions.
Be aware of social media. Websites like Facebook and Twitter have certainly blurred the line between our professional lives and our personal ones. If your boss, co-workers or clients follow you, be aware of that before you post any political messages. Even though you are expressing your opinions while you are off the clock, you still have to work with the people who have seen it. You should think before you post and remember that causing a debate can have negative effects on your career and your relationships with your co-workers. Also, don't use your work email account to spread political messages. If you want to donate your time to a cause you believe in, use your private email account.
Don't be confrontational and avoid instigators. In almost any workplace, there are people who are so passionate about their political beliefs that they will try to start debates and even call out co-workers on opinions that differ from theirs. Personally, I think that these people are simply suffering from an overdose of campaign debate. Maybe at home, they spend hours debating issues on political blogs and websites. As a result, their entire brain is consumed with arguments. It's like they've been temporarily rendered insane. Instead of taking the bait and getting into a long, drawn out discussion, try to avoid these people. If you talk about politics, be sure not to be confrontational and most of all - don't be that person.
Avoid specific, personal issues. This year, the main issues that were being decided dealt with topics that are intensely personal. Where you stand on same sex marriage, medicinal and recreational marijuana use, immigration, women's rights, abortion and so on are things that you should keep out of the office. When you are talking about the issues, try to avoid discussing these specific issues. Whether you are for or against these things, you risk causing deep rifts between yourself and your co-workers. For example, talking about how you think same-sex marriage is wrong might deeply hurt a gay co-worker. Although the election coverage is over and will soon be forgotten, that hurt might never be.
Keep an open mind. Everyone has different political views. When you hear people discussing opinions that you don't agree with, don't take it personally. Keep an open mind and realize that we all have different ways of looking at things and different needs. As such, we all have the right to our own opinions. All too often in politics, it becomes an "us vs. them" thing. Don't fall for it. People who don't agree with you aren't the enemy. We are all Americans and even when we disagree passionately, we all want what's best for our country. Respect the people who argue for issues you are against, because they are just as much of a patriot as you are.
Hopefully, as the election season and it's aftermath wind down, the need to discuss politics will as well. Until then, just remember your audience and think about what you are going to say before you say it.
How do you negotiate this conversational land mine? Please share your thoughts in the comments.