They say that if you want to practice safe conversation, you should stay away from religion and politics.
But the latter subject can sometimes be hard to avoid. And with the never-ending American presidential campaign now entering an especially intense, provocative and — let’s face it – darned interesting phase, the discussion can easily turn emotional.
So what’s an unconfrontational worker to do?
Depends, according to a survey by Accountemps, a staffing company specializing in accounting and financial professionals.
A careful employee doesn’t race headlong into debate, suggested Stephanie Searcy, regional vice president for Accountemps in Atlanta. “You never know if your comments may offend someone, creating potential rifts and hindering collaboration with colleagues. When in doubt, avoid these discussions at work.”
Of course, your judgment is going to be better when you are more familiar with your conversational partner, Searcy said. “It’s important to know your audience.”
Intriguingly, attitudes differ by gender, according to an Accountemps survey.
Workers were asked: How do you feel about discussing politics and the presidential election at work? Then they were offered two statements and asked whether they agreed or not.
For starters, it seems like women see those political conversations as a bit less educational than men do.
That is, 52 percent of males surveyed agreed with the first statement, that those discussions help “keep workers informed.” But only 34 percent of women agreed.
The second statement was whether “the discussions could get heated and offend others.”
Just under half of men agreed with that statement. But 66 percent – almost exactly two-thirds – of women agreed.
There’s also something of a generational divide: younger workers are much more likely to think political talk is informative. And they are less likely to be afraid that discussions could be offensive.
As for tips on managing discussions to avoid any serious acrimony, Accountemps has a few ideas for the cautious:
- Consider where a conversation might lead before you get involved.
- Stay “lighthearted.” Limit yourself to general comments.
- Don’t feel like you have to tell people what you think about politics. They offer a useful phrase – to be said with a smile: “Sorry, I’m staying out of this one.”
- Remember too, unless you work in a political organization, there’s no need to talk politics. Pardon the wordplay, but when it comes to the office, business trumps politics. And with that priority in mind, Searcy recommends: “Know when to walk away.”