Avoid a trip to HR: Tips for talking about politics at work

Still fuming over an argument with a coworker about last week’s presidential debate? You're likely not alone.

But before you repeat your war of words with Jim from IT about the upcoming debate, take a moment to rethink your political conversations at work.

Dr. James Lomax, a professor in the Menninger Department of Psychiatry and Behavior Sciences at Baylor College of Medicine, says it’s important for people to learn how to remain calm when things get heated in the office.

Here are a few tips: 

Have a game plan if coworkers start talking about politics

If your coworker starts bashing the presidential candidate you support and you feel your blood pressure rising, be ready to end the conversation quickly, Lomax said.

“One safety phrase could be, ‘I don’t feel comfortable talking about this,’ or ‘I remember something I have to do,' and leave,” Lomax said. “You need to get out of the situation before it gets worse."

The bottom line: Get out of there.

Thinking about ranting on social media? Think again. 

Social media gives people the illusion of invulnerability, Lomax said, but what you post today could bite you tomorrow.

“It’s important to remember people read what you say,” he said.

Especially in this election’s contentious political climate, people are increasingly vulnerable to someone reacting in a volatile way to online posts.

The same advice is applicable to responding to a coworker’s inflammatory post. Take a few minutes to think before you comment in a way you may later regret.

“We ought to engage in more civil and calmer discourse and not be violent in our communications,” he said.

Focus on your behavior and how you want others to see you

It’s easy to lose control and react before thinking about what you are doing, Lomax said. People who want to maintain control during a heated conversation can take a page from some techniques that are taught in therapy. 

Lomas said there are many nonverbal activities that can serve as reminders to check your emotions and think before you act. 

“When you feel your emotions increasing and heart rate increasing, if you touch yourself in a calm way on the wrist or forearm .. you can remind yourself to refocus and engage in a reflective way instead of arguing,” Lomax said.

People can also carry small objects like stones in their pocket as a tool to hold and remind themselves to refocus during a confrontation, Lomas said. 

Remember your place in the organization

“Obviously you want people to be passionate about political beliefs … but you also want to be successful in your job,” Lomax said

If you are in a position of authority and find yourself in a heated conversation with a subordinate, you need to stand down.

“People who report to you should have a confidence in you as a supervisor, “ Lomax said. “If you find yourself becoming heated in a conversation with someone who reports to you, try to distance yourself from that and apologize.”

If you find yourself arguing with your boss about politics, it’s time to think about your long-term goals at the company.

“Reflect on what you are trying to accomplish and on the bigger picture, not just the argument,” he said.

Follow @MaryBowerman on Twitter. 


To find out more about Facebook commenting please read the
Conversation Guidelines and FAQs

Leave a Comment