5 Ways to Survive Political Discussions at Work

Charles Lester, left, and Nicole Peoples, right, work at their cubicles in the Dell customer contact center in Oklahoma City. (Image credit: AP Photo)

Whether you're a politics fanatic or a workaday constituent, it's wise to dodge heated election debates at the office water cooler, says a liberal arts professor.

One of the cardinal virtues to heed as the buzz from the Iowa caucuses fades and subsequent primaries rev up is prudence. That's according to Pier Massimo Forni, director of the Civility Initiative at Johns Hopkins University, which began in 1997 to evaluate the significance of manners and civility in contemporary society.

However, don’t expect workplace handbooks to discourage political talk at the office.

"There is only so much that an organization can do to minimize the negative impact that differences of opinion may have on everyday life at work," Forni said. "In the end, it is up to the individual workers to find the wisdom and deploy the skills to remain professional at a time when 'we' versus 'they' thinking is more frequent."

Forni offers advice on political etiquette at the office.

1. Decide whether you are game. Ask yourself whether the printer area, for instance, is the right place to discuss your favorite presidential candidate. Consider the consequences of a chat that could become heated.

2. Disclosing your position is not your only option. When asked how you intend to vote or what political beliefs you hold, remember you have several options for response, including: "Why would you want to know that?" or "I'm sure I'll make up my mind before Election Day." or "I am really not comfortable discussing such a delicate matter at work." For the busy-body who plays the "outing" game by saying: "And how is our favorite conservative today?" Forni suggests a covert response: "And who would that be?"

3. Be fair and respectful. For those who decide to discuss politics, make sure to give your office mate the chance to speak. For an extra incentive, remember that while elections come and go, most likely you'll have to face co-workers long after the polls close.

4. Do not presume agreement. Don't take for granted that you and your co-workers hold the same political preferences.

5. Keep your poise and be assertive. No matter how you respond to a prodding colleague, do so with politeness and firmness. If another employee is bullying you about your stance on a political issue, you can reply, "This is my opinion and I have given it a lot of thought," or "Well, let's just accept that we have different opinions about this and move on."

Jeanna Bryner
Live Science Editor-in-Chief

Jeanna served as editor-in-chief of Live Science. Previously, she was an assistant editor at Scholastic's Science World magazine. Jeanna has an English degree from Salisbury University, a master's degree in biogeochemistry and environmental sciences from the University of Maryland, and a graduate science journalism degree from New York University. She has worked as a biologist in Florida, where she monitored wetlands and did field surveys for endangered species. She also received an ocean sciences journalism fellowship from Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.