You don’t need me to tell you that tackling politics can be a cantankerous topic of discussion within any setting, let alone the workplace. Just ask Moira Walsh, the Rhode Island state legislator who was recently fired from her part-time waitressing job for allegedly upsetting patrons with her “vocal political discussions.”
While it’s yet unclear as to whether Moira was subjected to unfair dismissal, this incident provides further proof that airing our political views within the workplace can have disastrous consequences. However, it’s also natural to want to share your views or fears with the people you spend so much of your time with, especially in our currently politically-charged climate. Here’s how to broach the divisive subject sensitively:
Do: familiarise yourself with company policy
Before you launch into a monologue about how you think Pauline Hanson has the potential to be the next Donald Trump, refer to your employment contract. If you wear a uniform or deal directly with the public, you might discover that you’re required to represent the company that you work for – any misrepresentation could lead to instant dismissal. In the States, a quarter of employers have specific policies on political chitchat, with some banning it entirely.
Don’t: single out someone you know has opposing views
Judging by their Facebook activity, you’re pretty sure a certain colleague has polarising views to your own – don’t single them out on a quest to change their opinion on company time. Not only is it incredibly unprofessional, it could damage your working relationship entirely. What’s more, you’re unlikely to even succeed; our views are highly personal and born out of our own experiences. Attempting to change someone’s entire perspective during a two-minute water cooler encounter is an exercise in futility.
Do: identify your triggers
Whether it’s the topic of immigration or a woman’s right to choose, there may be a certain subject matter that is particularly triggering for you. In this instance, it’s probably best to withdraw from the conversation entirely or run the risk of having an emotionally charged exchange in the middle of your company’s open plan office. If you really feel like you want to continue the conversation further, arrange to do so outside of work hours.
Don’t: be afraid of shutting the conversation down
If the colleague leaning over your desk isn’t picking up on your reluctance to engage in their one-way discussion about a wall around Mexico, make it clear that you want to wrap up the conversation. Start with, ‘Actually, I’m pretty swamped – can we come back to this another time?’ However, if they persist, try the standard, ‘Actually, I’m really not comfortable discussing politics at work.’
Do: Respect the opinions of others
Especially if you kicked off the conversation in the first place. We all have a tendency to be rigid when it comes to our political views but it’s important to avoid making offensive sweeping statements such as, ‘Anyone who believes that [INSERT POLITICAL STANCE] are idiots!’ Instead of inflammatory comments, try using a phrase such as ‘I would be really interested to know why you believe that’ – gaining a broader perspective during a respectful conversation is a great learning opportunity for everyone.