Political discussions seem difficult to avoid at this point in election season. When it comes to charged political conversations at work, the answer is usually simple: Don't go down that path. In any other context, political conversations and debates are an essential aspect of a thriving democracy. But in the workplace, productivity often depends on team cohesion and success requires the ability to get along with others.
Here are four ways to steer clear of hot buttons while chatting on company time.
Watch what you wear
During election season, don't wear politically charged T-shirts or hats to work. Avoid using accessories with printed slogans. If foregoing your campaign t-shirt feels like a betrayal of your favorite contender, just put the shirt back on the minute you get home.
Understand that political discussions can get personal
You may think that a political discussion is just discussion. Surely no one could get PERSONALLY heated over the fate of a specific proposition, or who stands to take over the local city council seat for the next four years. But watch out. Imagine a co-worker tossing out idle remarks about a topic that's very close to home for you (one that may touch on your personal identity, your rights as a citizen, or the health and safety of a family member). Would you find it easy to stay silent? Probably not. If you'd rather not be put into an awkward position, don't create this conflict for others. Don't play lightly with political topics like you would with, say, the weather.
If two coworkers are tipping into an uncomfortable discourse, you don't have to act as referee or take sides. In fact, you don't have to fan the flames by continuing to stand there. Take some oxygen out of the fire by simply walking away. After they've cooled off, you can kindly remind them that political discussions should be avoided at work.
As soon as a conversation becomes political, things get dodgy. People can feel angry, attacked, afraid of losing face, or afraid that the other person's opinion — if allowed to continue unchanged — might harm them in some way. Use the straightforward phrase "I'd rather not talk politics at work" to provide an immediate, complete, and perfectly graceful way to step out the back door. State it and you'll glide away from a touchy situation with both your friendships and your career intact.
For more on how to navigate the social aspects of the workplace, explore the career building tools on MyPerfectResume.