The Appropriate Way to Talk Politics at Work

It can be hard to steer clear of this hot-button topic on the job.

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Ritika Trikha.jpg
Ritika Trikha
With the coming election and the constant coverage on just about every news channel, it can be hard to steer clear of politics while making small talk at work. Nonetheless, irrelevant hot-button political beliefs don't have a place in the office.

While it may make for some great debates with your friends or online forums, getting riled up about your political beliefs at work does you no good in the long run. In turn, discussing politics heatedly puts you at a risk of potentially damaging your professional relationships.

Going down that path means increasing your probability of completely offending others, says Liz Taylor, business etiquette expert and founder of Etiquette Principles.

"People are extremely passionate about their views and most people think they know what is right," she says. "So why risk losing the respect of a co-worker over a short conversation?"

Of course, sometimes you can't avoid the topic if a co-worker brings it up first. Here's how to handle it:

1. Don't change the subject too abruptly. If a colleague brings up politics at work, etiquette expert Jodi R. R. Smith of Mannersmith Etiquette Consulting says that it's okay to chat with them—just keep your guard up. "As soon as the conversation gets heated, it is time to move on to something safer," she says.

If someone's talking passionately about their adoration for presidential nominee Mitt Romney's tax plan, listen. It can come off as condescending to ignore their perspective and quickly change the subject.

It's all about tact. Instead, it's best to gradually transition into a work-related topic by first neutrally entertaining their perspective and then transitioning into the new topic.

2. Channel your inner journalist. In other words, ask questions and don't be opinionated. Try and get the facts and engage by asking questions about their point of view without focusing on your own stance. "If the conversation gets heated, change the topic," Smith says.

Some questions to ask:

  • What issues are important to you?
  • What does your candidate hope to do about these issues?
  • I read that (insert a topic), is that your experience as well?
  • Nod along and listen to their answers. This will make them feel appreciated and keep the heat off of you.

    3. Avoid contentious debates. If it really starts getting heated, take a deep breath and remember to be the bigger person. Some neutralizing phrases you could use to dilute the debate include: "I see where you're coming from" or "This is why I enjoy speaking with you, we have such different perspectives. Thank you for explaining your point of view."

    A recent Forbes article offers a reminder that causing a major disruption ignited by a fiery political discussion could be cause for termination. Private employers do have the right to bar some political discussions in the workplace. It's worth checking your company's policy on political discussions.

    4. Make a graceful exit. After the conversation has cooled down and fizzled, make your exit. "Oh, look at the time. I must go prep for my 10 'o clock. I'll catch you later" is a perfectly suitable way to go, Smith suggests.

    Taylor says it's okay to evenly change the topic. For instance, "did you have a chance to watch the baseball game last night?" is a great way to go. "Anything to get their mind off politics," she says.

    Ritika Trikha is a writer for CareerBliss, an online career community dedicated to helping people find happiness in the workplace. Check out CareerBliss for millions of job listings, company reviews, salary information, and a free career happiness assessment.