You Voted! Want to Talk About it? 4 Tips for Productive Political Discussions at Work

Today is the big day in the US: Midterm Elections. In light of this monumental event, we're encouraging everyone we know to join a nationwide conversation and vote.

When you cast your ballot, you are choosing the people and policies that best represent you and your beliefs. More than ever in 2018, the level of enthusiasm, candidates, and measures continue to vary greatly. As a result, there is a higher chance of politics spilling over into the workplace today and well into the coming weeks ahead -- if they haven't already.

In our personal lives, we often surround ourselves with people that think the same way we do. At the office, we are exposed to a greater range of beliefs. While this can provide an opportunity to see another side of things, and have an added perspective, it can also lead to a higher chance to offend, or be offended.

This scenario of not seeing eye-to-eye is likely to pop up in all different scenes in your life – the office, school, church, grocery store, etc. The reality is, it is easy to point the finger. To disagree. To shut out. It is much harder to entertain an idea that competes with your own. To be curious. To be open.

Solid relationships and strong conversation skills will help ensure that discussions around politics remain civil and constructive.

Given that, I wanted to share an excerpt from Fierce's Founder and CEO, Susan Scott in Fierce Conversations: Achieving Success at Work & in Life, One Conversation at a Time:

What each of us believes to be true simply reflects our views about reality. When reality changes (and when doesn't it?) and when we ignore competing realities, if we dig in our heels regarding a familiar or favored reality, we may fail. Perhaps what we thought was the truth is no longer the truth in today's environment.

For example, most people believe that there are some people you just can't talk to. That, as Satchmo said, "Some people, if they don't know, you can't tell them." After we've experienced countless failed conversations over the years, such a belief is understandable.

I've observed, however, that it is also possible that the way we've been talking with people isn't working. That our techniques for talking with "difficult" people haven't worked, but other techniques can and do work, without rattling sabers or giving ultimatums. That is our beliefs about what we can say, as well as how and to whom we can say it, that are in the way, and that if we change our beliefs, productive conversations can easily occur.

And so, today, I'm challenging you to approach your conversations with good intention.

It is not enough to simply engage in a conversation. You need to have a plan and really drive for the desired outcomes that you seek -- building a relationship, learning something new, or sharing a different perspective with a fellow team member.

No matter where your employees stand, these following tips can be useful in navigating these complicated topics:

  • Ask yourself, what is my intent?

If you are considering approaching a political topic, be sure to question your intention and desired outcome. This can help put the conversation into perspective, and potentially avoid discussions that come from a less-than-genuine place. Do not start a conversation to gloat, to prod or to undercut under any circumstance.

  • Watch your language.

As a rule, in any contentious conversation, instead of using "but" after validating someone's opinion, use "and". Example: "Yes I see your view, and I feel differently" instead of "Yes I see your view, but I feel differently." Hear the difference? "And" is more inclusive.

  • Take no for an answer.

While in almost all cases we encourage conversation, this is a bit different. Some people may be fine discussing political topics, while others have no interest. Respect your co-worker's request to change the topic, and don't bring it up again if they have made it clear they do not want to engage.

  • Address behavior if necessary.

If there is someone specific who is causing tension, call out the behavior in a one‐to‐one setting. If you don't feel comfortable doing this, ask your manager. Then, explore how the situation could be handled differently in a way that reflects the company's core values.

For all of these conversations, the key is to ensure your employees are well-versed in having productive discussions, and also comfortable simply stating that they aren't interested in diving into certain topics, and moving on.

We must nurture our relationships, our expectations, our respect for each other more than ever. And we need to do so, one conversation at a time.

It starts with you. Approach each and every conversation with good intention.

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