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Advice / Succeeding at Work / Work Relationships

The Do's and Don'ts of Talking Politics in the Office

We’ve all heard “don’t talk religion or politics in the office.” Which is easy enough—until you hit election year, when political discussions and debates are taking place far more than usual.

Unfortunately, it isn’t always possible to completely avoid politics popping up at work. So, as we gear up for the last two months of the presidential race, we’ve created a guide to help you know what to say, how to say it, and when to keep your mouth shut.

Do: Know the Rules

First things first: You may not realize it, but many offices have guidelines that prohibit wearing political clothing or bringing campaign material into the workplace. Save yourself an embarrassing trip to HR by thinking twice (and checking out the rules) before you decorate your cubicle with “Obama Mama” or “Mitt’s My Man” paraphernalia. Same goes for sending out political emails to co-workers or using work time to tweet or blog about your views.

And even if it’s not against the rules? It could annoy (or really piss off) your boss. Play it safe and save your campaigning for the weekend.

Don’t: Let Your Guard Down After Work

Even after work, when talking politics is technically OK, it’s still your best bet to tread lightly. As unfair or unreasonable as it may seem, knowing your personal politics can quickly change someone’s opinion of you (and of your work). And making a heated comment on your Facebook wall or at happy hour—even if it’s funny—can easily offend someone, tarnishing the hard-earned reputation you’ve built for yourself.

Even if you’re 100% sure all of your co-workers share your political leanings, there are plenty of other people out there—i.e., clients, a potential employer—that could be turned off. A good rule of thumb: Pretend everyone around you is of the opposite party, and plan your political comments accordingly, even after hours.

Do: Play Nice

At many offices, a little political talk at the water cooler is par for the course, especially in an election year. So, is it OK to engage? Sure. Just keep it as friendly and as lighthearted as possible. Remember that it’s highly unlikely that you’re going to convince your office mates to switch political parties—or even their position on an issue—in a 30-minute conversation over lunch, so avoid launching in to anything that could resemble a lecture or debate.

Instead, try to approach the discussion as a conversation. Ask non-confrontational questions like, “What do you think about Paul Ryan? I know you follow politics, and I’m wondering what your thoughts are” or “I’d love to get another point of view on Medicare reform. What’s your opinion?” By keeping an open mind and being sincerely interested in others’ views, you might even learn something new about an issue or about your co-worker.

Don't: Touch Heated Issues

That said, while this tactic may work for a discussion of taxes or environmental measures, there are some topics that you’ll never be able to have an office-ready conversation about. Hot button issues like same-sex marriage and abortion should just plain be avoided—there’s really no middle ground, as opinions are often tied to religious or moral beliefs, and going down this road is more likely than not to result in an intense conversation.

Rather than enter into a heated debate with people you’re going to have to see tomorrow, the next day, and the day after the election, steer clear of these and other sensitive issues. They have no place in the office.

Do: Know When to Walk Away

If you feel like political chit-chat is getting heated or confrontational, it’s time to walk away. Believe me: Getting a co-worker to see your point is not as important as keeping things calm, cool, and classy in the office. A simple, “Oh, look at the time. I need to get back to work/make a phone call/run an errand before lunch is over” will usually suffice. Or, try to lighten the mood by changing the subject in a funny way, like, “Now, let’s talk about something really important—Miley Cyrus’s new haircut.”

If your co-worker persists, however, you may need to be more direct. Sometimes, it’s best to say, “I think we’re going to have to agree to disagree” or even, “This conversation is getting a little too heated for the office—can we change the subject?” to put a stop to the talk once and for all.

Talking politics can be tricky, but, like many things it’s an unavoidable part of the workplace. Hold strong—in just over two months, the presidential race will be over, and everyone will be back to talking shop (at least until inauguration).

Photo of Roland Tanglao.