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How to avoid talking politics with your boss and coworkers

Many folks agree, in theory, that it’s wise to avoid talking politics with your colleagues. And yet this contentious election season it seems almost impossible to escape from distracting, annoying, and sometimes upsetting political commentary—even at work.

Beverly Jones, executive coach and author of the book, “Think Like an Entrepreneur, Act Like a CEO,” advises workers to not engage, to stay neutral and calm, and then to shift the topic to something else. But that’s the best case scenario, and the way people respond may depend on their situation.

Accordingly, she offers these approaches to help you escape these difficult discussions. 

  • If they keep referring to candidates. It’s easy to ignore the occasional reference to politicians, but if coworkers won’t stop talking about them it’s OK to ask them to cease. The best thing is to be polite but direct. You might say, “I don’t like to talk about politics at work. I find that it’s too easy for me to feel distracted, and I need to concentrate on this deadline.”
  • If they talk too much about everything. We are in the midst of a highly political season so it’s not surprising the topic keeps coming up. But your basic problem may be coworkers who talk too much about anything in the news, from sports to the weather. While you don’t want to be rude, you can set boundaries. It’s appropriate to say, “I can’t take the time to talk now because I’ve got a deadline.” To keep the conversation on track during meetings, always propose an agenda, and stick to it. If you find yourself frequently cutting off chatty coworkers, but you want to stay friends, show it’s not personal by finding opportunities for them to have their say. Suggest a lunch or coffee break, and devote that time to listening to whatever they have to say.
  • If you disagree with what they’re saying. Do you feel uncomfortable because you work with people who vote in different ways than you? It’s unlikely that you’ll be able to stop them from making occasional comments. But you can decide how much to let it bother you. When you can’t just walk away, take a lesson from successful politicians and let the rhetoric just flow on by. Vociferous political speech is part of our culture. You might think of it like the weather; it may get stormy, but it’s not about you and soon it will pass.
  • If they are talking at you.  If you don’t restrain your kneejerk reaction to comments you find to be outrageous, there’s danger that teasing you will become a popular office sport. Some people enjoy arguing about politics but if you don’t, then don’t take the bait. If you stop rising to their taunts, you will ruin their fun and they may stop bothering you.
  • If it’s over the top. There’s a difference between annoying political dialogue and hate speech. If colleagues describe your favorite candidate as an idiot, that’s not about you and it’s best to let it go. But if they make repeated comments that are racist, homophobic, misogynous or otherwise demeaning to an entire class of people, that certainly can feel like it’s directed at you. Sweeping dismissive comments can create a hostile, unproductive workplace, and you don’t have to put up with it. Go to your boss or the human resources department and let them know about the situation.

The best way to escape a political diatribe can be to walk away or tune it out. But if you find themselves drawn into the conversation, Jones says don’t make it worse. Maintain a matter-of-fact, analytical tone and focus on the issues.

Additionally, she recommends that you never make derisive personal comments—even about your least favorite candidates.

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