Discussing politics in the office: Asking for trouble?

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At work, there are some topics of conversation that need to be approached cautiously, if at all. Your definitive list of “reasons why your boss sucks,” your religious beliefs and your feelings about “The Real Housewives,” for example, are all better left off of the conversation menu. Expressing your views on these polarizing topics can lead to some pretty intense discussions.

Another topic that’s taboo at the office? Politics. Like trying to argue the merit of Teresa Giudice to a “RHONJ” hater, telling a Republican colleague that there’s much more to President Barack Obama than a soulful set of pipes is just asking for an argument. And who wants to spend an entire afternoon arguing with a co-worker?

A lot of people, apparently. According to CareerBuilder’s new survey on talking about politics at the office, 36 percent of workers say they discuss politics at work, while 46 percent say they plan to talk about this year’s presidential election with their co-workers.

Though not all political discussions lead to bickering, play with fire and eventually you’re going to get burned. Of those who confessed to playing David Gregory’s advocate in the office, 23 percent said it led to a heated debate or a fight with a colleague.

If you just can’t help but get excited each time Mitt Romney wins another red state, keep an open mind and respectful demeanor if you decide to discuss it at the office.

“Most workers opt to keep political debates outside of the workplace,” says Rosemary Haefner, vice president of human resources at CareerBuilder. “Any time you’re dealing with subject matter that is sensitive or potentially inflammatory, it’s important to always be respectful of your colleagues’ opinions and avoid emotionally charged exchanges.”

Joseph Grenny, co-author of The New York Times best-seller “Crucial Conversations,” agrees that politics can be a touchy subject for a lot of people, and that keeping a level head during these conversations is key. “Look at the situation from your co-worker’s perspective by asking yourself why a reasonable and rational person would hold that political view. While you don’t have to agree with their view, you can still acknowledge that it is valid.”

Have a tendency to let your strong opinions get the best of you? Make it through election year with your work relationships intact by following these additional tips:

1. Look for areas of agreement. “Begin by reinforcing the basic values and purposes you hold in common,” Grenny says. “Let your co-worker know you share common goals, even if your preferred tactics for achieving them differ.”

2. Focus on facts. “We’ve all become masters at spin detection, and none of us like when people exaggerate, twist and spin the facts. Consider the source of your facts, and ask your co-worker to do the same,” Grenny says.

3. Keep it safe by looking for signs of silence or violence. “If your co-worker grows quiet or starts to become defensive, step out of the content of the discussion and restore safety,” Grenny says. “Reinforce your respect for them, and remind them of the broader purpose you both share.”

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