“Don’t hug a boa constrictor” is absolutely good advice that you should always take.
“Pull the rip cord” is also solid guidance.
“Don’t talk politics at work” is pretty good advice in some ways.
Yet, democratic nations pride themselves on affording freedoms, including the freedom to express oneself.
Having and voicing viewpoints can develop richer workplace relationships that will lead to some solid collaborations.
Or, maybe talking politics on the job is just inevitable. Here are some tips for expressing honest opinions in a way that will help you avoid trouble and offending your peers.
1. There’s No “I” in “Issue”
Well, perhaps “I” is the first letter in the word “issue.” But all too often people make political issues about their own preferences or feelings.
You’ve heard people say, “Well, Iiiiii think…” and then discuss the issue in terms of what offends them or rankles them, etc. What about talking about issues in terms of fairness, economic effects, some close-to-universal values if at all possible?
This makes you seem less self-interested and motivated by selfish interests, and should, therefore, defuse tensions before they build.
2. Acknowledge Differences
Smiling and saying, “Now I know we disagree on this, Richard,” can help a lot.
Use this tactic as opposed to gleefully telling Richard you’ve really got him this time or that you know his stupid socialist ideas are going to love such-and-such.
If you make it about expressing views rather than winning, HR can’t fire you.
3. Get to Work
This one is so obvious it may slip through the cracks. University of New Haven professor Stuart Sidle brings us down to earth with a very pragmatic tip — be sure the work is getting done.
That will cause your political discussions to be suitably brief, not sprawling into long, drawn out messes.
4. Don’t Assume Agreement
Have you ever been embarrassed by someone uncorking some really extreme political viewpoint as though it were just obvious you were going to agree? Don’t be that embarrassing person.
While you don’t want to be too pointed about asking someone’s political beliefs, never talk to a person as though you’re at a gathering of a political party or some other safe-house of like-minded individuals.
Instead of, “People need to learn that greed doesn’t give us a right to destroy the planet,” try something like “I can see both sides, I just tend to value conservation more.”
This can allow for agreement if your conversation partner feels the same way, and it paves the way for a disagreement — you’ve said that you happen to feel a certain way, not that you’re right. You’re implying other people feel differently.
5. Be Serious
Discussing politics and making jokes are two different things.
While having a problem with the Affordable Health Care Act (to take the radical step of calling it by its correct name) based on sound reason should be acceptable — even if it’s a heated topic — making some joke, which usually has some insult in it, will get you in trouble.
That’s where you get into unprotected speech — you can be disciplined for harassment in that case. The way the First Amendment protects political speech at work (in general terms) is by preventing employers from firing you because they disagree with your politics.
It doesn’t create a free-for-all. It is there to protect well-meaning people, not cranks who want to make light of serious situations.
So: Feel free to talk politics, just wait until you get home to really let loose!