How to Talk (or Not Talk) Politics in the Office

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Dear DW,
My coworker is always broadcasting his political views, and let’s just say his worldview is different from mine. I’m just as passionate about my politics, and I’m tempted to tell him so, but I’m worried it could cause tension in the workplace. What should I do?
Signed,
Passionate About Politics

Dear Passionate About Politics,
A 2017 survey by the American Psychological Association found that roughly 40 percent of employees said office political chatter had led to at least one negative outcome at work, such as reduced productivity or a more negative view of coworkers. So you’re right to be concerned.

It used to be a no-no to talk politics in the workplace, says Angie P. Kirk, director of professional development at Management Leadership for Tomorrow, a leadership development organization based in Bethesda, Maryland. But today, with explosive headlines and a 24-hour news cycle, politics have made their way to the watercooler.
“If you can’t keep an open mind and a respectful conversation, you probably shouldn’t engage in talking about politics,” Kirk advises. If you get frustrated, name-call, or want to make sweeping generalizations, steer clear of the topic. If someone else brings it up, “change the subject, maybe saying ‘I didn’t hear that news story, but did you see This Is Us last night?’” Kirk suggests.

If you decide to engage with someone who has different political opinions from yours, “don’t debate,” Kirk says. Instead, use this as an opportunity to learn about different viewpoints. However, if the discussion becomes a matter of proving who’s right and who’s wrong, call it quits.

A final point: Even if you and your coworker are enjoying the discussion, pay attention to those around you. Other colleagues might be uncomfortable with political talk in the office. If that’s the case, invite your politically-minded pal out for drinks and have a conversation. You can get as passionate as you want when you’re not in the workplace.

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