The golden rule of discussing politics at work is to not discuss politics at work. But with politics being discussed everywhere you look nowadays, it’s pretty difficult to completely avoid talking about it when you’re at the office.
With that said, just because it is everywhere doesn’t mean that you just bring it up whenever there’s a lull in conversation. After all, you’ve probably seen just how quickly one Facebook status posted by a friend can turn into a full-out comment war.
In an effort to avoid that (but not pretend like we’re all robots who are in a bubble from nine to five), I’ve come up with a few new golden rules for having these tough conversations. And then leaving them with your dignity intact.
1. Assume the Best
If you kick off a conversation thinking the worst in people, then you won’t be able to accept their points as valid, and the whole “talking about current events” experience will be lousy for everyone involved.
Assume that the people you’re speaking with care about these issues just as much as you do—and they don’t disagree with you for the sake of disagreeing with you, but rather because of their own set of beliefs and values.
2. Stay Informed
If you’re planning to have these conversations at work, it would be in your best interest to stay informed as to what’s happening. And that doesn’t just mean reading tweets or sticking to the same blog you check every day.
No, if you want to have a good conversation, you should be getting your information from a variety of sources. Not only will this bolster your points, but it’ll probably also open your eyes a bit.
3. Use “I” Statements
Even if you think your opinion should be the law of the land, you should start every sentence with “I think.” Because even if the other person agrees with you, it’s never a good idea to put words in someone else’s mouth.
And if you start to hear yourself saying “You…” it might be time to step away, because the only thing that follows “you” in these conversations is usually an accusation.
Be prepared to listen twice as much as you talk. If you’re starting this discussion just to hear your own voice and get validation for your opinions—stop, save it for your friends. Only jump in if you’re trying to move the conversation forward, not if you’re trying to win it.
5. Ask Questions
It isn’t enough just to listen to others speak. You can figure out where they’re coming from simply by asking a few open-ended questions. Questions like “Can you explain that a bit more?” or “Would you mind sharing how you came to that conclusion?” tend to work wonders in keeping the conversation civil. And hey, you might just learn something and change your own mind.
6. Choose Your Battles (and Battlegrounds) Wisely
When you overhear people in the kitchen talking about a situation that’s near and dear to your heart, take a beat before jumping in. Is this your CEO and COO? If so, are you sure you want to risk offending them with your viewpoints on international policy?
If it is people you feel comfortable going back and forth with, is this the right place to do it? Do you think everyone in the kitchen will feel comfortable (and not want to run to HR) when the conversation’s over?
7. Know When to Step Away
There is always that one person who is just looking to get you riled up. They’ll advance a crazy hypothesis and then defend it like the gospel. Or, they’ll make inflammatory remarks about personal issues because they know it’s something you care a lot about.
Don’t take the bait. Simply put your headphones back in and get back to work. (Or, fine, don’t get back to work—watch a YouTube video that you know always makes you laugh first.)
8. Be Aware
Before delving into your points, take a moment to take stock of your audience. Are they willing? Or, are they just waiting for their food to finish heating up in the microwave?
Sure, Laura might’ve initially brought up a candidate’s statement from the night before, but that doesn’t mean she should be subjected to all your thoughts on the topic. Make sure you’re having a conversation, not standing on a soap box.
Off-topic workplace discussions are meant to relieve the pressure of your regular job. Don’t let a discussion about politics threaten your sanity, your friendships, or worse, your career. Commit these rules to heart, and you should steer clear of any conversation disasters.