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How to Talk Politics at Work Without Being a Jerk



Offices across the country are filled with political talk right now, as people digest last week’s election results and speculate on what the country can expect from the new presidential administration and Republican-controlled Congress.

It’s possible to have interesting, productive political conversations with your co-workers … but it’s also possible to cross lines, cause tension and even harm your work relationships, so you need to proceed with caution.

Here’s how you can discuss politics at work without being a jerk.

First and foremost, respect that not everyone wants to talk about politics at work. You might be itching to debate the merits of the electoral college or speculate on what will happen in the next congressional session, but not everyone wants to have those conversations, particularly at work. Some people may be deliberately trying to get away from political talk, others may be uncomfortable sharing personal viewpoints with their employer and still others may just want to work in peace. So if you notice your co-worker isn’t engaging in the conversation with you or is actively trying to change the subject, don’t ignore those cues. An awful lot of people don’t want to talk politics with co-workers, and in the interest of office harmony – and basic decency – you should respect those preferences.

Be aware of trapped bystanders who might not appreciate the conversation, as well. If you’re having a spirited political debate with a colleague, have some empathy for the person whose desk you’re lingering near. Being trapped near co-workers who won’t drop the political discussions is plenty of people’s idea of hell, to say nothing of how hard it can make it for them to concentrate on work.

Accept that in the aftermath of last week’s election, some of your co-workers may be grieving. Many people whose candidate didn’t win have serious worries about what the results will mean for their own lives (including in regard to things like health care) and the lives of those they care about. Whether or not you think their concerns are founded, this is not the time to try to prod or provoke people. Be respectful and sensitive to the depth of feelings that many people have about last week’s results.

Be respectful. If you want to talk about the election with co-workers who have different beliefs than you, make your goal to educate and understand – not to persuade or harangue (and definitely not to gloat or demonize). If you don’t think your co-worker’s political beliefs are deserving of your respect, take that as a sign that you shouldn’t be engaging in the conversation at work at all. After all, to do your job well, you need to maintain pleasant and respectful relationships with colleagues – and your colleagues deserve to be able to come to work without being harassed about their beliefs.

Don’t assume that other people share your political beliefs. Even if your office seems relatively homogeneous, your co-workers’ political beliefs may not be. Assuming that you know someone’s political viewpoints is a really good way to offend, alienate or marginalize your co-workers. And while you might think it should be no big deal for the person to speak up and correct you, some people may not be comfortable doing that, especially if doing so would mean that they would out themselves as a political minority in your office.

Try to seek common ground. If you find yourself in a conversation with a colleague whose views are quite different from your own, things will likely go better if you assume that the other person cares deeply about the country’s future and the well-being of future generations. Saying that out loud can help keep things from becoming contentious – as in, “I know we both want the best future for our country. We just disagree about how to get there.”

If you don’t want to talk politics at work, be forthright about setting and enforcing that boundary with your co-workers. You can simply say, “I’d rather not discuss politics at work” or “We look at these issues differently, and I’d rather keep politics out of our work relationship.” And if all else fails, this may be a good month to wear headphones.


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