Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Politics...Can we talk about your pets instead?

By: Steve Scaffidi, Account Executive, Leonard & Finco Public Relations

If you haven't already realized, it's a presidential election year! The past few months have been a deluge of nonstop campaign commercials, robo-calls, and a series of over-analyzed and over-blown debates, with politicians trying their darndest to capture your attention.

Don’t get me wrong. America’s elections are important, and my hope is that anyone who has the right to vote, exercises that right. My concern is that political discussions can creep into the workplace or at social gatherings filled with people, some who you know, some you don't.

My caution is politics is a hot topic and can quickly become flammable as most people have their own strong convictions on who should be elected and the reason(s).

There is one really good reason why it’s a good idea for you to avoid talking about politics. If you're in a professional situation, alienating half of your audience (based on my unscientific estimate that the country is split roughly 50-50 down political lines) probably isn't a good idea. You also run the risk of endangering a client relationship if their political leaning is different than yours. You may also ruin an opportunity for a referral, losing clients you haven't even met yet. Why take the chance?

Avoiding political discussions and hot-button topics can be an art form all by itself. Knowing when to shift the conversation away from politics can be challenging, but there are ways that a good communicator-giving you the benefit of the doubt on this one-can successfully navigate these testy political waters.

If someone asks if you watched the debate last night, change the subject or deflect the question. This is great advice even if you may have actually invested several hours of your evening watching the candidates spar with each other. The reality is nobody else needs to know that.

Some simple responses may include that you were tied up with something else at home or had a family activity. If you’re not comfortable with deception to avoid conflict, there's always the simple nod of the head. The questioner sees the head nod as agreement, but you're not really saying anything, thus avoiding a political litmus test on what they've just asked. It’s then up to you to quickly change the topic.

Of course, it's never easy to steer a conversation away from sensitive political agendas, but the reality is there is a time and a place for political discussions. The work place and event gatherings are not among them. Talk about something else, maybe the Academy Awards? No wait, ask them about their pets. Most everyone has a dog or a cat.

Politics can ruin good conversation...what's your strategy for avoiding political discussions at work?

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