We are at an inflection point in history.
In pockets all over the world, there has been a marked division in people’s ideas, beliefs as well as their actions. This has led to sparks of outbreaks, political happenings and tragic events that have left us shocked and dismayed, at the worst of times, and puzzled and concerned at others. Each one builds on the divisive political discourse that is happening more frequently and with growing fervor at home, at work and everywhere and anywhere in between.
Add to this the 24-hour news cycle and social media, the borders on when and where we should talk about politics are blurring. Making it worse, politics is becoming more personal than ever before. As a result, relationships are being affected. This is true within families and amongst friends. As well as between colleagues at work.
According to a study by the American Psychological Association, 1 in 4 employees reported political discussions at work were making them less productive, they were finding it harder to get work done, and when they did, they were producing lower-quality work. These discussions also changed how they viewed their colleagues, having a more negative view of those who they disagree with politically, while creating a more hostile work environment.
To avoid such effects that could further limit your progression at work, working mothers will need to consider how they can juggle political talk all the while balancing the other plates in their orbit. Here are a few ideas to help you do just that:
Know the rules
For a long time politics had no place at work. This is supported by company policies that limit political activities and discussions in the workplace. For example, does your employer prohibit posting campaign materials in your workspace? Find out what these are for your company and be sure to abide by them yourself. By the way, don’t be shy to share them with your manager and colleagues, so together, you can avoid tricky situations.
Consider the risks and rewards
Current political events, like the weather, are common small talk topics that are near impossible to avoid in the office. While you can’t prevent these conversations from happening, you can choose whether to engage and to what extent. You may have an opinion to share, but before you do, consider the risks and rewards in doing so. Can your opinion create hostility with the people you’re talking to? Can it lead to a professional snub down the line? Will the immediate satisfaction be worth it tomorrow?
Be respectful and civil
The professional ramifications of talking politics in the office isn’t simply what you say. It’s how you say it. Politics is more personal than ever before, so it’s easy to become a fervent champion of your side. This won’t do you or anyone any favors. Instead, find ways to demonstrate respect, restraint and civility. This in no way means you can’t disagree. You most definitely can. Here’s one way: “Thanks for sharing your point of view, but I respectfully disagree.” Then, share your opinion succinctly. Or, if you don’t feel it’s worth it, don’t.
In addition, you’ll also want to maintain a calm tone and volume when you speak, be sure not to make things personal to you or to the other person (i.e., don’t use ‘I’ or ‘you’ statements), and keep an open body stance (i.e., avoid crossing your arms, or pointing fingers). Taking this approach will demonstrate leadership qualities that others will be more likely to emulate the next time.
Listen and be curious
One of the greatest – and rarest – leadership qualities is the ability to listen. As humans, we are conditioned to speak, not listen. So it requires a conscious effort. Here’s one way to practice: when your colleague shares their opinion, check in that you heard them clearly. You can do this by summarizing what you heard them say.
If you got it right, they’ll agree. If you don’t, they may explain further. As they do, take the opportunity to ask questions to better understand their perspective or what may have led to their position. Your ability to be curious can shift the dynamics of your conversation without jeopardizing your professional relationship.
Steer away from sensitive conversations
There will be times when no matter what you do or what you say, political conversations can turn ugly. If you’re feathers are being ruffled and you’re worried how you’ll react, walk away. If you feel the need to explain, something simple like: “You know, this conversation isn’t working for me. I’m going to get back to work.”
There are times touchy topics are brought up. You may notice that it’s causing someone else discomfort, or you know it’ll only end up in an intense, emotionally charged debate. In these situations, actively steer the conversation away from the topic. At times, you’ll need to do this gently without calling attention to the tension. A great option is to ask a direct question about a different topic. However, if you want to avoid the situation in the past, a more deliberate approach may be required: “I’m sure we all have opinions on this topic, but this isn’t the right time to get into it. Let’s circle back to what we were talking about…”
Consider your state of mind
There will be times you can’t control how others react to conversations. But, you can control how you react. To ensure you are in the right frame of mind, you’ll want to monitor your stress level and find healthy ways to manage it. A good option is to take a break from the news cycle. Turn off commentary news shows and remove politically charged content from your social media feeds. Another option is to get your political news from traditional newspapers, so you can stick to the facts and avoid the opinions.
Talking politics is tricky, especially at work. These strategies can help you avoid some uncomfortable and unproductive situations.
Have other strategies in managing political conversations at work? Tell us in the comments below.