How to Handle Political Conversations at Work

November 10, 2016

The only way to win a political argument at work is to avoid one.

Chances are, you probably have some thoughts about Tuesday’s election results. Unfortunately, so do your colleagues.

And therein lies the problem. While political conversations are great at home or at a dinner party, at work they can cause a distraction and hurt collaboration.

In his new LinkedIn Learning course, Gregg Ward, management consultant and author of the book The Respectful Leader, has simple advice regarding this issue – the only way to win a political argument at work is to avoid one. Hence, he gives some tactical advice on how to redirect a colleague's political statement into something more productive:

In the video, Ward outlines a simple process for handling political comments at work. If someone brings up politics:

You can’t just immediately change the subject.

If someone brings up politics at work, you can’t immediately change the conversation to sports or the weather, Ward said. It’s too abrupt.

Instead, calm them down by playing dumb.

Generally, people will be filled with passion when they first bring something political up at work, Ward said. This is the worst time to disagree, as it could lead to an explosive argument.

Instead, a better solution is to play dumb by asking them what exactly they mean. This calms them down as they give a more understated overview of their opinion.

After they explain their point, make a general statement and move on.

Once the person is done explaining his or her point, it’s time to make a general statement that everyone could agree with. Ward recommends saying something like “I think we can all agree that this was a really contentious election.”

Generally, the person agrees and you can change the subject or move on with your day. And – viola! – you’ve effectively avoided a political argument.

The bigger point: A political argument at work always ends in two losers.

It’s tempting to voice your opinion when a colleague says something you disagree with. And while it might feel good for a minute, frankly you aren’t going to change their mind and there’s a chance you’ll hurt your professional relationship with that person.

So, instead, deflect political conversations in the manner Ward described. While perhaps frustrating for a minute, strong relationships are essential at work, and it isn’t worth jeopardizing that over an argument you can’t win.

*Image by Tambako, Flickr

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