With the presidential primary season officially underway, it is only a matter of time before political discussions infiltrate the office.
While it used to be taboo to discuss topics like politics and religion at work, those days are gone thanks to an increasing blurring of the lines between employees' work and home lives, said communication expert Lacy McNamee, an assistant professor in the College of Arts & Sciences at Baylor University in Texas and a researcher of dynamics within organizations.
While a workplace in which employees feel comfortable discussing anything can be a positive, it has the potential to turn ugly when casual political conversations get heated.
McNamee said employers need to ensure office political discussions don't turn into vocal free-for-alls. That can quickly create a toxic atmosphere, which can interfere with getting work done and pit co-workers against each other. [Job Candidates Need To Be Politic About Politics ]
To help employees keep the peace during this election season, McNamee offers several tips:
- You don't have to participate. While you might want to jump into a political conversation at work, remember that you don't have to. You are certainly entitled to share your opinions, but no one is forcing you to do so.
- Not everyone has to agree one another. It is important understand that no matter how strongly you believe in what you are debating, you likely aren't going to change you co-workers' opinions. It's OK to agree to disagree.
- Be careful when working at nonprofits. Discussing politics when working for a nonprofit organization can be tricky since such groups often need the support of legislators — even those they wouldn't vote for — when trying to land a government grant. Nonprofit employees who are too outspoken could hurt their organizations' chances of securing government funding, which only hurts the nonprofit in the long run.
- Be vague. If you want to participate in the conversation without angering anyone, try using what communication experts call "strategic ambiguity." This allows people to take a stand without being an advocate. For example, if you get dragged into a political conversation you would rather not be in, ask others what they think instead of sharing your own viewpoints. "Interestingly, people who are very comfortable about talking may not ask what you think," McNamee said in a statement. "We tend to be rather ego-centered, and others may assume we feel the same way they do."
- Don't be a poor sport. When "winning" a political debate with a co-worker, it is important to be diplomatic and not rub it in. The win isn't worth sacrificing a good relationship with a colleague.
- Know when a conversation is getting heated. When things do get testy, try using some humor to de-escalate the situation. The key, however, is making sure your jokes don't come at the expense of your co-workers.
- Talk about something else. If a political conversation gets uncomfortable, steer the discussion in another direction.
- It's what happens at the voting booth that matter most. You can argue as hard as you want, but in the end, your voice is much more effective at polls than at work.