In what’s got to be the most polarizing presidential-election cycle any of us can remember, it seems like it’s almost impossible to stay away from conversations about politics. Not only are personal friendships being stressed, but professional alliances are being sorely tested too. Rochester’s Post-Bulletin has put together 10 guidelines that can keep you out of trouble from here to Election Day (and afterward).
01. Know your audience
Before you open your mouth, think about who you are talking to. Odds are that you already have a good idea who they support if you think about it. If you’re not sure, start the conversation with a question about what they think of the candidates.
02. Know your stuff
If you have facts supporting your position, make sure they’re accurate and not just talking points or oversimplifications that came from some source you agree with. Getting stuck in a “well, I heard”/“no, I heard” argument gets no one anywhere and just leads to negative feelings.
03. Debate facts, not feelings
Once a political discussion gets into emotions, things can blow up fast. Try to stick to actual issues and facts to avoid people getting hurt.
This is always true, but especially important when you’re talking politics. Afford the other person — and their judgment — your respect. Choose your words carefully and with this respect in mind. Don’t talk down to them or things will go off the rails fast.
05. Speak up or shut up
You don’t have to get involved in the conversation at all, but if you decide it’s important to you, go ahead and express your opinions bravely. Changing your position mid-conversation — unless, of course, someone really does change your mind — just makes you seem like you have no real views of your own.
06. Listen to what is being said
In your rush to get out your next point, it can be all too easy to not really hear what others are saying. Give others your full attention to avoid misunderstandings. If you combine that with respect, you may learn something you didn’t know.
07. Know when to back down, turn around, and walk away
Don’t let things get nasty. If you feel like things are spiraling out of control, politely walk away — after all, you do have work to do, and that’s a perfect excuse to which no one can take offense.
08. Agree to disagree
If you agree at the outset that you’ll never see eye to eye, you can have an entertaining time hearing what others think without feeling you have to dispute their point of view.
09. Remember, you’re on the same side
When the conversation’s over, you’ll still be coworkers (only the truly brave talk politics with their boss) and you’ll still be at the same company. Don’t let things get so heated that your work relationship is jeopardized.
10. Know the company’s policies
Some companies don’t allow employees to get political in company emails or on company premises, so it’s a good idea to know where yours stands. It’s unlikely that hanging political posters or making other visual statements will make the environment more peaceful, in any event.
It’s actually one of your responsibilities as a citizen to stay informed, have a political opinion, and vote accordingly. It could even be argued that you’re supposed to talk over issues with people you respect as part of that process. And it can be done without damaging productivity. Just be respectful, though. Listen, exchange ideas, and don’t forget to vote.