As Decision 2016 looms, political artillery bombards you from the right and left, putting you on battle behavior whether you like it or not. On the battlefield of political discussion, reason and compromise are often the first casualties. This may fly among family and close friends, who will respect your opinions because they care about you, but your colleagues won’t share that same understanding or flexibility. That’s why when it comes to politics, the office just isn’t a safe zone.
So if you find yourself in the middle of a political discussion at work, your survival depends on the key to all business etiquette: graciousness. There is no need to make others uncomfortable, or, worst of all, mad. Talking politics isn’t worth offending the people who could be responsible for promoting you, or whom you must work with every day. This doesn’t mean you should be devoid of opinions—it just means you should share those opinions gracefully. Think of it as if a supervisor asked for your thoughts about a coworker you didn’t especially like—you should weigh your political input just as carefully, and offer it just as tactfully.
Before you enter the political fray, remember to:
- Be intentional – Have a reason for jumping into any political discussion. Know what you hope to accomplish, whether it’s exchanging knowledge about a policy or a candidate, or getting a coworker’s take on the latest debate. This pairs well with questions like, “What is your opinion about…” and “Tell me more about why you think that way.” Never expect to change anyone’s opinion.
- Prepare for action – Keep a cool head by gathering your thoughts in advance. The sandwich strategy is always a good bet. Offer something positive on both sides of the discussion, and then insert a little something in the middle that you feel is important to share. Recognize your hot-button issues, and have a respectful response ready if things get heated. Humor is great here: If someone asks what you think of Donald Trump, you can respond with, “I just love that hairstyle of his!”
- Know your audience – Are they conservative or liberal? Do you know you share the same views? Do they really want to hear what you have to say? Even in conservative Orange County, it’s best not to assume your audience shares your views. This is also why you shouldn’t talk politics to vent frustration!
- Have an exit strategy – Does anyone really like to “agree to disagree”? This dismissive phrase says you haven’t resolved anything and don’t care to discuss this issue again. It’s better to end on common ground with phrases like, “I can tell this means a lot to you” or “I’m glad we got to learn more about each other.”
Practicing graciousness during election year will help you improve the business etiquette that is so important to your executive presence. And rather than joining the battle, you can just as graciously abstain from political discussions at work. You may be more comfortable leaving politics as the elephant in the room, rather than letting politics make you look like a donkey!