Many people are passionate about politics and political benefits. While this is good as it promotes civic engagement, the last thing you should do is talking politics at work.

Political topics can be explosive, and it’s difficult to know which issues will truly upset your colleagues.  You’ll also risk alienating your peers, plummeting the company’s morale, missing out on a promotion, and potentially become terminated.

Instead of putting yourself in a troubling situation at work, here are some tips to avoid talking politics and what you can do if you’re caught between a partisan and a hard place.

How to Prevent A Political Discussion

Half the battle about avoiding political discussions at work is letting your coworkers know that you don’t want to engage in political topics. But let’s be clear: you don’t need to wear a sign highlighting your feelings. In fact, there are simple preventative steps you can take to help you out.

Establish a reputation

It’s reasonable to expect that most coworkers will respect your boundaries if they know that you’re not interested in discussing politics. You can share this belief by politely not entertaining political conversations and not sharing your political affiliation or thoughts on specific issues. By doing so, you’re conveying that these discussions are off-limits.

Watch the company you keep

You may run into someone or several individuals in your office who are passionately vocal about their political views and comfortable sharing them. If they’re unwilling to respect your wishes to avoid talking politics with you or you know that a discussion will be inevitable, the best solution may be to limit being around them – particularly on hot political news days. You forfeit the right to complain if you’re choosing to take a break when you know the political junkies are going to be sharing the breakroom. Choose your battles – and your company.

How to Back Away from Political Discussions

We’ve all been in that awkward situation where – despite your best efforts – you’re stuck in a political discussion. Instead of making a negative scene in front of your coworkers, here are two ways to politely back out of the conversation.

Shift the Conversation

When coworkers bring up political discussions in the office, try shifting the conversation towards a neutral subject or focusing on related topics that are not politically charged. Potential topics you can use include:

  • Rave about a recent book or movie you enjoyed. Everyone loves an avenue for entertainment. Share why the latest book you read kept you up at night or why your coworker needs to invest in the next binge-worthy show.
  • Focus on food: Bringing up food is always a safe bet when shifting the conversation. You can ask for new recipes to try or talk about a new restaurant you recently tried.
  • Share last weekend’s adventures: If your weekend plans didn’t involve going to a political rally or campaigning for your favorite candidate, this is a safe topic.
  • Talk about vacation plans: Are you going somewhere fun, or did you return from a great trip? Your coworkers would love to hear about it.

Disengage from the Conversation

Occasionally, it’s easy to ignore the occasional reference to politics, but if your coworkers continue bringing up the topic, it’s perfectly acceptable to ask them to not bring it up. Plus, by declining to take part, you’ll avoid the possibility of getting caught in a controversial discussion that can cause you problems in the future.

The goal for this request is to be polite but firm. Potential responses that you can use include:

  • “I don’t like to talk about politics at work. It distracts me, and I need to concentrate on this deadline.”
  • “While this topic sounds interesting, I prefer to not talk about politics at work.”
  • “I’d rather spend my time debating sports (or another easy-going topic). Let me know when the topic changes back to it.”

If your coworkers still insist that you need be a part of the conversation, simply decline and excuse yourself by saying something as simple as, “Thank you, but I’m not interested. See you later!”

How to Properly Engage in Political Conversations

In a previous article, I shared why you need to avoid talking about politics at work. However, if you must talk about politics in the workplace or your job requires a discussion, here are three tips to protect yourself.

  1. Be polite and non-confrontational
    Half the battle when engaging in a sensitive topic, like politics, is making sure that the other person believes they’re being heard. Don’t make the other person think you don’t care about their views through your verbal or nonverbal cues. Instead, maintain positive body language by smiling and keeping a loose and relaxed posture. If you answer or rebuttal someone’s comments, be polite. Lead with a comment like “That’s a valid point but I disagree” and then explain your reason.
  1. Stay level-headed
    One of the biggest dangers of talking politics at work is allowing yourself to get passionate or emotional during a conversation. To avoid this, you must stay calm and rational. A simple trick is to take a deep breath before responding and giving yourself a chance to think before responding to the conversation.
  2. Be sensitive to inflammatory comments
    An unfortunate reality that stems from today’s political climate is that some people root political opinions in insensitive, hateful, or inflammatory beliefs. And being present when someone shares such a belief may damage your reputation simply by association. If such an occurrence happens, follow these simple steps.

    1. Immediately disengage the conversation by sharing that this conversation should end.
    2. Don’t be afraid to tell the person that their conversations are inappropriate and may offend coworkers.

If you’re feeling harassed at work – either because of your political beliefs or because you refuse to participate in or endorse the political beliefs of others – it’s okay to contact human resources. Your office may need a refresher on the Hatch Act, or just a common sense review of what is appropriate in the workplace, and what isn’t.

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Brandon Osgood is a strategic communications and digital marketing professional based out of Washington, DC. His background includes public policy, human-rights advocacy, and marketing consumer-based products. Beyond being a passionate storyteller, Brandon is an avid classical musician with dreams of one day playing at Carnegie Hall. Interested in connecting? Email him at brosgood@outlook.com.