Handling Political Discussions in the Office

My first advice on discussing politics in the office or with clients would be simply: don’t. Save it for friends or family–people you know well–or the internet, preferably on a site where your customers aren’t. You never know what “hot button” you’re going to accidentally push. I understand this is a very American attitude to things. In fact, when I asked a waiter in France what people talked about there if they didn’t talk about their jobs or sports, he laughed at me and said, “We talk about sex, politics, and religion.”

And some folks are persistent. In which case you can try, politely, to deflect the conversation if you don’t wish to engage.

Then again, you might be someone who enjoys initiating discussions about politics with your clients. Good luck with that if you don’t work in the political game for a living. The short version of my advice goes something like this:

  • Listen to what the other person has to say.
  • Take their comments or thoughts seriously.
  • Approach the discussion with an eye toward understanding the other’s viewpoint, not in forcing your own agenda.
  • Likewise, it’s a bad idea to jump right into how you think the world could or should be made better by promoting [X philosophy/policy] and how anyone who disagrees with you is a corrupt, ignorant fool (I’ve had people do this with me). Great way to lose friends and cease influencing people.
  • Take the time to explain why you feel a certain way about a particular topic and why it’s important to you.
  • Try to aim for the best possible outcome, which is to say that you should aim for a flow of discussion in which your customer still wants to talk with you when the discussion is over. This means…
  • Don’t attack, insult, mock, or try to “trap” someone when they don’t share your point of view.

I say all this because political discussions are philosophical discussions (despite a friend I had who insisted that “philosophy has nothing to do with politics”). Philosophy is all about deciding what’s important to us. Philosophy is a reflection of who we are, and none of us likes to have who we are questioned or mocked. Which is why political “discussions” frequently devolve into arguments. And when you have an argument, you cease learning and start attacking. From there on, you have unhappy people.

So again, I caution you against initiating these sorts of talks with strangers or in a work environment with people you know primarily in a professional capacity. But then I’m a non-confrontational kind of guy. If you want to argue politics, knock yourself out. Just be aware that there’s a reason people tell you not to talk to religion or politics with strangers. You might just learn the hard way.

About Bart Leahy

Freelance Technical Writer, Science Cheerleader Event & Membership Directior, and an all-around nice guy. Here to help.
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