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Talking Politics at Work: Taboo Or Unavoidable?

Updated: Apr 19, 2021

The Capitol riot has been controversially described as "un-American,” which begs the question: what values, behaviors, customs and actions are associated with America? Sadly and obviously, in this country, that answer varies significantly depending on a person's background and identity.

Without sounding like eternal optimists, we think it’s important to find the silver lining in this dark moment because finding the silver lining helps us maintain hope and move forward. The silver lining here is to remind us that we have an opportunity to create a new reality and experience where we reject hatred, racism, double standards, entitlement, injustice, bullies and stupidity. And we have the opportunity to normalize empathy, compassion, open-mindedness, honesty, equity, servant leadership and morality.

While we hope that everyone can agree that the Capitol riot was atrocious, we can’t deny that the country is divided and has been for some time. And this affects our friendships, our families and our workplaces.

So how do we create more tolerant and compassionate spaces, especially at work? We have been taught that talking about politics is taboo. Yet, according to a survey from the Society for Human Resource Management, almost half of working Americans have personally had a political disagreement at work. Right now, you can’t go on social media or turn on the news without hearing about politics, therefore political conversation is hard to avoid. And we don’t think you should avoid it, but we do think there are certain ground rules to make these conversations successful and beneficial.

  • Be willing to listen. This may sound obvious but you can’t go into a conversation with a colleague with different opinions if you aren’t willing to listen to them. It is easy to dismiss someone who you don’t agree with -- it’s a lot harder to ask them why they think the way that they do and actually listen to the answer.

  • Be mindful of emotions. While many people like to argue that politics isn’t personal, it is very personal. So be aware that emotions will undoubtedly be high which leads us to…

  • Boundaries. Make them for yourself and respect those of others. If you are starting to feel uncomfortable in a conversation, you have every right to express that and to end the conversation no matter if you just started or are 45 minutes into it. Conversely, if someone says they are done talking, don’t force them to engage.

  • There is no winner. There is no moderator. There is no score board. Changing the views of your colleague should not be the goal. Instead, the goal should be to understand each other better.

  • Common ground. Finding common ground is important, especially after a tense argument. Maybe you don’t see eye to eye politically but maybe you like the same food or like the same music. At the very least, you work at the same company and unless one of you quits, you have to work together. So remember to bring it back to basics, especially if you have a tough conversation.

All that said, intolerance should not be tolerated no matter who you voted for in the past or who you will vote for in the future. Declare what you will and won't tolerate, and reflect that in your actions - big and small. Commit to being a part of the solution and people will likely follow in your lead.

Written by Katie Avila Loughmiller

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