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The Aspire Internship Program is designed to help adults with high cognitive autism spectrum disorder or a related profile navigate the various aspects of the work environment while gaining important on-the-job skills.
By Lesley Flaherty, MSW, LCSW, Career Counselor
It is considered good practice to avoid talking about politics in the workplace. In the Internship Program we teach about the concepts of virtuous and deadly topics when communicating with colleagues. Virtuous topics are considered safe and include topics such as the weather, movies or television shows, sports and current events. Deadly topics are those you would expect to be inappropriate for the workplace such as religion, race, sexual orientation, and of course, politics. Though we encourage our interns to stick to the virtuous topics at their job site there are bound to be areas of grey. A question raised among our interns recently includes the political climate we are all currently sitting in – what do you do if your virtuous current event topic is fueled by a deadly one like politics? The topic of Hillary vs. Trump is weighing heavily on the minds of many, and so it is not uncommon for it to intersect our conversations in the workplace. Navigating the nuances of these conversations can be challenging and could lead in a direction you had no intention of heading down.
Here are 5 tips to help guide you through this hot topic:
1. Avoid discussing politics when possible.
A good rule of thumb to start with is to simply avoid talking about politics in the workplace whenever possible. This includes avoiding pointed questions like asking your colleague who they’re voting for or about their political affiliation. Keeping the conversation light by discussing virtuous topics like the ones above will prevent you from traveling down a slippery political slope while still building connections with your colleagues.
2. Know yourself; know your audience.
If you cannot avoid discussing politics in the workplace, it is important to know yourself and your audience. Knowing where you stand between party lines is good practice in self-awareness but will also help to inform how rigid you may be on certain issues, what you’re willing to discuss and ask questions about, and who you can have these conversations with. If you know a colleague has similar ideologies to you, it is likely safe to engage in conversation around this topic with them. Be mindful of where you have these conversations so as to not unintentionally offend others.
3. Politely exit the conversation.
If you find yourself in a conversation that suddenly took a political turn or if you are inadvertently cornered by an enthusiastic colleague, it is appropriate to politely exit from the conversation, especially if it is one that makes you uncomfortable. Choosing to exit the conversation might sound like, “I’m sorry, I do not mean to interrupt but I actually have to get back to my work,” or more directly, “Thank you for sharing your opinion, Bob, but I am not comfortable having this conversation in the workplace.
4. Redirect the conversation to more general topics.
It can often be difficult to disengage from conversations with colleagues for various reasons. We may feel uncomfortable for fear of offending or perhaps embarrassing the other person. If you feel like you are part of a conversation that you cannot easily exit, redirect the conversation to talk about those virtuous topics. You can politely redirect the conversation by asking if they’ve seen a new show on Netflix that everyone’s talking about, their plans for the weekend, or the weather.
5. Talk to a person you trust.
If you are ever unsure of your office culture or policies around discussing politics in the workplace, reach out to a person you trust. This could be your supervisor or fellow colleague. Understanding the perspective of someone who may have more familiarity with the company may give you a better sense of how to navigate this conversation specific to your workplace culture.
Talking politics can be tricky and often unavoidable in the workplace, especially as Election Day draws near. Following these tips may help guide you through these moments even after the race is over – just in time for the 2020 presidential election.
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