Everyone knows that one should never talk about politics, and especially not here!
All the advice you have heard and read on the art of conversation is very clear: never talk politics in public, especially not at work.
But, as you read this blog, right around the corner, at the water cooler, over the cubicle wall, at the lunchroom table or while picking out a doughnut before the morning meeting, someone, somewhere in the business world, is going on with his opinion. It could involve the Middle East, an RCMP investigation targeting politicians, a plane crash, even the frequency of the compost pick-up in your little town. He has a political view on everything. Plus, he is nudging you to get your take on it.
But, as you read this post, down the hall, in front of a water cooler somewhere in Canada, or while choosing a muffin before the start of the morning meeting, you can hear “him” going on and on. He unreservedly comments on our upcoming elections, the European migrants crisis, the American presidential candidates and even on the municipal composting process. He openly shares his political points of view on everything. And occasionally, he gives you a little nudge so you can comment, too.
Doesn’t he know? Political talk is taboo! What can you do?
When I started giving business etiquette workshops, I tagged politics, along with religion, money and sexuality as inappropriate topics of conversation.
Knowing that it is practically impossible to avoid political talks during elections times, I have since revised its label as “slippery.”
When hearing political chatter, visualize the caution yellow sign with the words — “Slippery slope ahead” — and be strategic.
Here are six guidelines to navigate political talks with tact and diplomacy, without a referee and without being directed to the penalty box by your peers.
1. Don’t assume anyone’s political convictions.
You know what they say about assumptions. It also applies here, too. Just because someone looks, talks and acts like a red, blue, orange, green, or something else, that does not guarantee that he supports that party. Besides, it does not concern you. How one votes is private.
2. Do as analysts do: cite facts and present figures.
You can talk politics without displaying your colour. Talk about statistics or surveys. Give numbers, mention experts along with their forecasts. Expose evidences while maintaining a general point of view.
3. Moderate your talk or stay neutral.
Discussions bubble over when interlocutors insist on imposing their views. Since we are all different, political conversations can heat up quickly. When their beliefs and values are being questioned, people become defensive.
It is best to remain reserved about your views. Not only with your words but also with your body language and your tone of voice. No rolling of the eyes, no long sighs or sarcastic remarks. These subtle signs could affect your professional reputation.
4. Don’t pretend to know. Learn as necessary.
If you do not know about a current event, don’t feign. Be honest and find out.
5. Prepare key phrases to soothe or exit smoothly.
When you feel insulted or offended, when your temperature rises along with the speed of your heartbeat, breathe. Listen. Think of the long-term consequences of blurting out your deepest convictions Get back in the moment, away from your emotions. Curl up your toes. (Really. It works.) Be strategic and use one of the following tactics:
Agree to disagree: “Oh my goodness… We’re both so passionate about our candidates. Because I think highly of you and of our relationship, I propose that we agree to disagree.”
Make peace with your differences: “Hmm, our views are really different on this one. It’s a slippery slope. It’s probably best that I take the fifth on this one.”
Ask questions, don’t interrogate: “Hmm, I never thought about it that way. It’s interesting, certainly a different perspective. Tell me more.”
Use humour to diffuse a fired up group: “Oh dear, I forgot to wear my armour today. I didn’t expect to be on debating duty. I’ll let you carry on without me.”
Change the subject: After stating one of the above phrases, it is also quite acceptable to change subjects with one of these classics. Remember to maintain an agreeable tone of voice: “Wow! How about them Blue Jays? What are you up to this weekend?”
Exit gracefully: “I don’t know enough about it to comment. I better get back to work.”
6. Don’t take it personally; take it professionally.
Be open to the views of others. Political opinions are not a matter of right and wrong.
Although as a citizen you are entitled to freedom of expression, remember that your workplace is not a public forum. As an employee, what you say and do could get you disciplined or even fired.
Also in our digital age of communication, stating your political beliefs on your social media could affect your employment status and reputation.
Think about it. Talking politics could be a very sticky situation.