WWe can probably all agree that talking politics can be tricky in any social situation, especially in the workplace.

And while some people think that open dialogue surrounding our nation’s tense political landscape can foster understanding and promote unity, others disagree. They believe doing so, may lead to toxic divisions between team members. So, enter the realm of political discussions at work at your own risk.

A recent survey asked 5,000 U.S. workers how comfortable they felt sharing their political views in front of their colleagues. While their attitudes varied depending on their gender, party affiliation, and geographical area, an estimated 34 percent admitted feeling too nervous to talk politics at work.

The truth is: a moderate amount of political “water cooler” talk is par for the course in most office settings, especially if it happens to be an election year.

So is it really okay to engage if you are approached by a colleague about a politically charged topic? Sure it is; however, it’s crucial that you respond appropriately.

The key to handling any political conversation in the office is to realize that conflict — or any difference in opinion for that matter — is quite normal and healthy as long as you strive to communicate in a sensitive manner and always keep your cool and remain calm.

The Political Landscape Is Not Changing Anytime Soon; Consider These Tactics

By keeping an open mind and being genuinely interested in a team member’s political views, you might learn something new about an issue or hot topic.

Here are several suggestions and tips from workplace experts to more effectively communicate your ideas to any listener, from your supervisor to your team members:

  • State of mind is key. It has to genuinely be okay for someone to have a different opinion than you and even disagree with yours. Otherwise, tempers will flare and emotions will take over. Rule of thumb “Be curious, not self-righteous”.
  • Acknowledge the other person’s opinion and repeat it back, so they know you are genuinely listening. Be an active listener, so colleagues feel comfortable sharing their views. Ask open ended questions for clarification like “Can you say a little more about that?”.
  • Avoid group discussions because conversations can ramp up quickly and sides may be taken. Try to keep conversations more one-on-one, it’s easier to manage.
  • Do not become emotional about your perspective, keep it logical and express it in a way that is respectful of other people’s opinions.
  • Avoid telling people what they “should” think, always share your ideas using “I” statements.
  • Make sure you are informed about whatever you are sharing. Don’t just spout out an opinion you saw on twitter or heard on a news sound bit. Know the issues well and have an “informed” opinion.
  • Know when to walk away. Be respectful and keep things civil. If you notice someone looks uncomfortable with the discussion, respect their wishes and move on.

The Bottom Line

Talking politics in the office is not always an easy thing to tackle. And while many controversial issues are unfolding around us that we should acknowledge and discuss, it is important to talk about them with our colleagues in a calm, respectful and professional manner.

At the end of the day, communication becomes easier when we practice acceptance. As Franklin Covey says, “First to understand, then to be understood”. If people feel heard and understood they are more likely to hear and understand as well.

Finally, try not to take anything too personally. Political debates in the workplace are unlike other office-related conflicts as they are more about philosophy versus the result of something someone has done. So, if a political conversation is triggering an unnecessary conflict that might be preventing you from doing your work, find other common ground and focus on that instead.