Politics is becoming like the NHL: Its season just goes on and on. Whatever side of the issues you're on, it seems like we get done with one election and everyone starts campaigning for the next. This party tries to outspin that party, and people who don't like either party fight over who's more independent. It's all on the Web, on TV, on YouTube, and in those old newspaper thingies. Sometimes, it's even in the office. And that can be dangerous.
There's an old saying that you should never discuss politics and religion with people outside your family. I'm not sure that's true, but I'm convinced you shouldn't discuss them with your co-workers. Today, politics has become a blood sport, and while many people may occupy the center - in their approach to discussion, if not their beliefs - an awful lot of others act more like unruly fans in the cheap seats in the days before beer sales were limited.
Of course, you can't control other people. Assuming you like to keep your politics to yourself, what do you do when a colleague tries to educate you about his views on the latest conspiracy theory?
- Be polite: If you don't want to be drawn in, don't be. Look for a way to break off the conversation, or tell the person you'd rather not get into politics, though you mean no offense. If the person persists, use your body to show your mind is somewhere else: Look at your computer, or don't make eye contact.
- Be firm: It's not easy telling someone you don't want to talk to them. (I admit: I follow the passive-aggressive, look-somewhere-else strategy first.) But if pushed, I can usually muster the courage to say, "I try to stay away from talking politics," and repeat it if necessary. You may also have to be firm with yourself. If a person is saying things I disagree with, I don't make any rebuttal, which in turn could lead to an argument. Easier said than done, I know, but it takes two people to argue, and I'd rather be bored and antsy for a few minutes than get into a tense political argument at work.
- Be patient: Whatever you say, let the person finish their sentence before you say it. If you get to a point where you do have to cut him or her off, say, "excuse me," first.
- Be discreet: Keep your voice low. Don't call for help. ("Hey, Sonia, can you believe what Jon's saying to me? Come over here and listen to this.") And once you've managed to extricate yourself from the conversation, let it end there. Don't wander over to someone else's cube to tell them about the incident. You don't know who they'll tell, and whether you'll find yourself at the wrong end of a game of telephone.
-- Mark Feffer