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Sticky Situation: Talking Politics at the Office Is a Slippery Slope

07/18/2014 12:41 EDT | Updated 09/17/2014 05:59 EDT
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Sticky situation(s):

Everybody knows not to do it. All the advice that you have read about conversation etiquette is clear -- don't do it.

But, as you read, around the corner, at the water cooler, over the cubicle wall, at the lunchroom table or while picking out a doughnut before the morning meeting, someone, somewhere in the business world, is going on with his opinion. It could involve the Middle East, an RCMP investigation targeting politicians, a plane crash, even the frequency of the compost pick-up in your little town. He has a political view on everything. Plus, he is nudging you to get your take on it.

Doesn't he know that talking politics is taboo?

Solution(s):

Well, it used to be, before you read this blog.

When I first started to give business etiquette workshops, I labelled politics along with religion, money and sexual matters, as "inappropriate" topics of conversation. I have since renamed them as "slippery." Meaning, yes you can chat about government actions, policies and their decision makers but beware. Before you open your mouth, visualize a yellow sign, slippery slope ahead.

To avoid wanting to rewind the conversation tape, here are four don'ts and two dos, to skate in and out of political conversations without being put in the penalty box.

1. Don't assume the political beliefs of others.

Just because someone looks and acts like a Liberal, it does not make him a Liberal; even if he always wears a red tie.

2. Use facts, figures and keep it objective.

State the facts while keeping a general perspective. This includes presenting numbers; as in surveys and statistics, explaining processes or talking about the different media coverage of the issue.

3. Don't divulge your personal opinion.

Things only get heated when individuals have different views and that happens a lot. When beliefs and values are questioned, people become defensive. After you have laid out your soul you will forever be judged for your alliance. Don't go there. Not only with your words but also with your body language and tone when listening to the other voice his outlook. No rolling of the eyes, head shaking, sighs, or sarcastic remarks.

4. Don't fake it.

When you don't know the situation, don't pretend. Ask for more information.

"I did not have the chance to catch up on the news. Tell me more."

"Hmm, I never thought about it that way. That is interesting."

5. Have your exit phrases ready.

When you feel insulted or vexed and your temperature rises while your heart races, stop. Breathe. And agree to disagree.

Making peace with our differences is not limited to political views. Use it any time you feel a debate coming on, including with favourite sports teams. Remember the fans at the FIFA World Cup?

"You know you can talk about your favourite team and I could go on with mine, but because I value you and our relationship, let's just agree to disagree."

If you are being put on the spot and someone pushes you for your opinion make a light comment and exit.

"Oh la la that is a slippery slope. I'll take the fifth on this one." "I don't know enough about it to comment. I better get back to work."

6. Don't take it personally, take it professionally.

Be open to other people's perspectives. This not a matter of right and wrong. It is about keeping harmony at work in a team of diversity.

Remember a place of work is not a public tribune. What you say and do could get your fired or disciplined. In our era of techno communications, it could even come back to haunt you.

You have a sticky situation at work or home? This is your forum. Write to Julie and she will reply promptly. Want more solutions to sticky situations? Go to Facebook, Twitter and order your autographed copy of Etiquette: Confidence & Credibility. Planning a conference? Julie happily travels coast to coast and beyond, to present customized activities.