Rules for Discussing Politics At Work: Basic Do’s and Don’ts

By: | July 10, 2023

It’s natural to chat with colleagues at work, even if it’s just for a few minutes in the morning and on break. The chances are that politics sometimes comes up. In today’s polarized political environment it’s not long before these discussions can get pretty heated.

There’s not necessarily anything wrong with a little back-and-forth about political issues at work. That said, political conversations have the potential to go wrong pretty quickly if everyone does not stick to some basic standards. One comment taken the wrong way can create a tense atmosphere.

Here are some do’s and don’ts to keep things civil at work when talking politics.

The first rule of talking politics is consent

First off, work isn’t the most appropriate place for an intense, in-depth debate about political issues, candidates or controversies. Yet because you spend so much time with your team members, it’s not realistic to ignore what’s happening in the world all day. If possible, try to stick to toned-down commentary. Before you start talking about details of recent political news, bring up the subject. Asking a co-worker “did you hear about X.?” This is a good way to put your foot in the water. If they don’t express interest then respect their desire not to discuss it.

Respect boundaries

Talking about politics is just like any other part of working with and talking to other people: respect boundaries and accept that everyone has a different comfort level when it comes to talking about controversial subjects. It’s inevitable that politics can rile people up: they’re about how to live your life, whom to support as your leader and what you consider good or normal. Disagreements – especially deeply-held disagreements – can cause real anger and resentment.

Listen, be respectful and ask questions

The keys to a healthy political chat at work are to listen, be respectful, ask questions, keep things non-personal, avoid demonizing whole groups of people and deflect from emotionally-charged subjects. Most of all look at your chat as an opportunity to share what you care about instead of a minefield of potentially offending someone or a chance to “convert” them to your way of seeing things.

Don’t assume others share your worldview

Sometimes when we have a strongly-held political worldview, we may believe that others share or should share your view. This can cause problems. Never assume. Go into any discussion by making it clear you aren’t trying to force them to see it your way. Maybe you’ll find more common ground than you expected or an interesting new way of seeing things. Maybe you’ll think they’re absolutely wrong. It’s OK to disagree respectfully. It’s not OK to be rude or hurtful.

Your audience may be larger than the person you’re talking to

Remember others may be listing quietly to the conversation you’re having with one or two colleagues. Don’t assume that the impact of your thoughts will remain limited to the people who are direct participants. People share the information they glean from conversations and sometimes they miss your main point or even misunderstand what you’re trying to say so it’s best to be aware of the environment you’re operating within.

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