You know it’s a potential minefield to start discussing the hot button controversial political topics of the day while at work. You can never assume what your coworkers believe or how they vote, and it can cause real strife—even rifts. Worst case scenario, you might be prompted to say something inappropriate or snide in the heat of the moment and, yes, you could get fired for such an offense.
Then again, these are turbulent times and sometimes political discussions simply can’t be helped. Here are a few rules to steer you clear of the worst kinds of fall-out.
1. Respect boundaries.
Not everyone wants to talk politics at work. Some people will go to great lengths to avoid it, and you should respect that. Never try to drag any clearly unwilling or hesitant participants into a verbal brawl. If they tell you they’d rather not discuss it, let the topic drop when in their earshot. Also be aware if you’ve trapped any innocent bystanders or passersby in a conversation they would rather avoid. Read body language and don’t get too swept away that you’re failing to pay attention to the people you are with.
2. Don’t assume anyone will agree with you.
It is dangerous to assume that your coworkers, no matter how well you get along, will agree with you politically. Maybe they grieved deeply over the last election result and you didn’t. Maybe it’s the other way around. Keep an open mind to this, and don’t ruffle any feathers.
3. Be respectful.
Even if you find out a coworker believes the exact opposite of what you believe—and you find their position incomprehensible and even outright wrong—respect them. You don’t have to agree with them or make them feel good about their views, but you do have to treat them like a human. It’s a very divided time. Take the opportunity to learn a little about what makes the other side tick. They’re very unlikely to change your mind, but you might put a human face to a point of view you didn’t understand before. Try to find some small piece of common ground. That’s a win right there!
4. Follow the rules.
Find out and then follow whatever regulations HR has set up for your workspace. If you’re not allowed to pimp out your cubicle with election propaganda, say, you might want to keep that Obámanos sticker at home or on your car. And leave the pin on your going-out jacket, rather than your work one.
5. Keep your guard up.
Your coworkers aren’t the only ones who might be exposed by political discussions. Keep in mind that you might be judged by others for having the opinions and beliefs you do. Be a little careful in what you share with whom. Try to save the real debates for coworkers and friends you absolutely know and trust.
6. Stay away from the third rail.
Politics is one thing, but jumping into the hottest issues that most inflame tempers is almost always a bad idea at work. Treat things like abortion and same-sex marriage—no matter how absolute and morally upright your stance—as off-limits.
7. Know when to quit.
If you’ve gotten so far into a conversation without anyone getting angry or alienated, consider that a win. Find a way to back out of the conversation for that day and live to tell the tale. Congratulations, you’ve just pulled off the almost impossible!