Story time…You’re fresh off your degree. You’ve got a head full of knowledge, a heart full of humanity, and a brand new job doing what you love best, temp-ing. It’s a great time in your life; you’re so full of awesome that you just wanna get on out there and share your thoughts with everyone you see about everything you saw on the news. The President did that thing, and some Senators did another thing, and it’s all great because the ideas behind everything political are wonderful and in the best interest of all Americans! …Aaaaaaaand now……crickets!
You’ve tanked. Hard. You’ve just discovered that taking on politics in America is quite possibly one of the most sensitive and well-packed social minefields you’re ever going to traipse into. Or barge into, as our little story so kindly illustrates. I and the Gents here at The Guide want to help. We’ve been there ourselves. We know the pain, we know the awkward, and we’ve met the crickets. Being new, or even being a seasoned employee, there can be some real no-litical topics that take you by surprise. Here’s our guide to help when the Elephant and the Ass come to work.

Before

Research your company. For real. If you work for a major “corporate” entity, chances are they’ve got a mission statement of some sort. Find it, read it, and see what it leans toward. Most high-level employees will have to adhere (at least publically–more on this later) to any sort of ideology in said mission statement as it applies to most anything, especially politics. Nobody loves embarrassing his or her self in front of the boss, so see what you can find out about what the company wants him or her to say. Knowing the company’s history, focus, goals, and corporate mood can be a major advantage in knowing what buttons–and whose–to avoid when politics comes up.

Recon. Now, I realize that taking an ear to things right off the bat isn’t everyone’s style, and that’s all well and good. However, if you think you can stomach it, I advise to give it a go. Day-to-day conversations can yield some interesting information if you know what to listen for. Read or watch the news daily, at least enough to catch some of the major stories. Pay attention to which of those come up in passing around the office the next day. Catching when someone says, “Did you see that story…” can provide a wealth of information about that person’s interests, ideas, and convictions. Especially if they’re always talking about cat videos. They’re a hardliner.

Think your own ideas through. I mean no ill-will or implication of ignorance by this suggestion. That said, believing in hope and sticking to that through the entirety of an office debate in pol…anything, really…is going to provide you with the opportunity to answer some potentially very hard questions very easily. Over and over again. Know what you think and why you think it, so you don’t become a sticking point for someone else’s argument. This is particularly important if you’re new where you work. First impressions are key(definite), and even if they don’t think you’re right (probable), if you present your opinions thoughtfully, it will earn you some respect(hopeful)…(at best).

During

So now you’re in the shi…stuff. You’ve been asked your thoughts on a recent State of the Union, let’s say. Nothing’s been said yet, and you’re the focus of several pairs of gazing eyes. Here goes. If you haven’t a clue, don’t act like you do. If you read the SOTU after, or caught the main points and are feeling confident enough to engage, by all means, do so. If you didn’t: DON’T SAY YOU DID. Ahem…apologies. Politics is one of, if not the, biggest areas where people will hold a conviction until the moment they die, and will defend it with tooth and nail. It would be unwise to enter a point/counterpoint when you are the counterpoint, have no idea what the point is going to be, and are prepared with the relevant knowledge to discuss exactly zero topics/subtopics/subsubtopics.

Most people are busy; they will understand if you didn’t have the opportunity to feast your eyes upon whatever political phenomenon they want to talk about. However, if you didn’t, consider this an excellent opportunity for information gathering, and ask what happened. Cha-ching.
Do not cut anyone off. It’s a well known establishment that Republicans think Democrats and everyone else are idiots. It’s a well known establishment that Democrats think Republicans and everyone else are idiots. It’s a well known establishment that The Tea Party thinks that Republicans and Democrats and every–you get the point. Don’t reinforce anyone’s thought process by cutting them off mid-point. Not only is it just rude and ungentlemanly, it’s a golden opportunity for them to wash you out of the argument entirely without having heard anything you have to say at all. Icing on the cake, they’ll think you’re an idiot, AND you have to work with them every day. Thus, be patient, no matter how glib their remarks may seem. So long as you’ve thought out your own stance diligently, your opportunity will come.
Follow some good common sense. As previously mentioned, you DO have to work with these people. Ensuring success in the workplace sometimes means stifling the urge to beat the bajeezus out of a peer employee because he thinks the hot dog guy on the corner should be President. Keep the idea that you like paychecks in the back of your mind as the discussion progresses. If you have no valid counterpoint, make none. Admitting that you need more information isn’t defeat, it’s an invitation for another discussion at another time when you can argue a point without reverting to being five. Avoid logical fallacies such as character attacks; don’t make the individual the target of your frustration since after all, their argument should be. For other examples, see below:

After

The proverbial dust has settled, nobody’s dying, and the lights are still on. The discussion went smoothly overall, and everyone is back to work. You feel a bit of tension with some co-workers, none with others, but everyone is being cordial and polite. No harm no foul. Here’s a few pointers for after.   If the discussion is done, it’s done. To be clearer, there are two types of political discussions that can occur. The first is point-specific. It centers on one topic and one alone. There’s nothing else to say on the matter, and in a few days, it will be overshadowed by something else. The second is a more general, Republican vs. Democrat sort of thing. Know the difference between these two. When the first is put to bed, it’s put to bed. Bringing it up three days later usually won’t end politely. The second is a recurring theme, capable of being brought up again at a later date pending new information, a new trigger, etc. The first argument type is usually a tool for the second: obviously, points have to be made in any argument. Do your best to recognize the difference and treat events accordingly.   Don’t hold grudges. The gentleman respects others opinions, regardless of his own. If Bill from accounting is an Ass, let him be an Ass. By “Ass,” I of course mean Democrat, not a figurative or literal– The important note here is that, again, you have to see certain people daily. Some of them for several hours straight. Don’t make things uncomfortable for yourself by yourself. If you felt that you presented yourself well and said what you needed to say, then that’s all that can be done. Despite some appearances, a discussion is a discussion, not a battle to the death. It can be intelligent, polite, and informative without ruining your week. The deciding factor? Your attitude.

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