These days, everyone and their mother have an opinion on the current state of political affairs. But how do you navigate the minefield of political opinion while employed in management consulting – an industry notorious for being apolitical? Or even more generally, how do you position yourself in any professional setting? After all, you’re smart and have opinions (if you’re anything like us, strong opinions).
The honest truth? Your approach shouldn’t have changed at all. The golden rules of political discussion at the office still apply, even in the Age of Trump. To be clear, political discourse was already getting nastier before the Donald ever arrived on the scene – in this context, the Age of Trump refers to broader political, policy, and (unfortunately) actual fights playing out across the globe: Brexit, rising tensions on the Korean Peninsula, and civil war in Syria, just to name a few. There’s no shortage of happenings to have strong opinions about. How do you navigate these thorny conversations? Today, we’re here to share three timeless tips on how to navigate political discussion at the office and with clients.
3 Tips on Navigating Political Discussions
1. As far as anybody knows, you’re neutral: This may be harder for some of you than others, but the office is not the place to be pontificating on the latest wonderful or egregious policy coming out of Washington. One of your greatest assets inside the firm is being able to work effectively with (almost) everyone – you don’t want to be known as the person inside the office who can’t get along with people or picks fights. While your colleagues may be super bright, nice, and mature people, it’s amazing how much the 12-year old in us can come out when discussing politics. Name-calling, hard feelings, judging before understanding – the office environment doesn’t need this kind of toxicity.
Now what we’re not saying is that you muzzle yourself or shrink back, afraid to speak at all if the topic comes up. What we do suggest is that you couch your language in generalities: “We’ll have to see how this latest policy turns out.” “I’m not sure what the reasoning behind that is – I’ll have to do some more research to really try and understand both sides of the issue.” Keep your cool and impartiality, and you’ll show Managers and Partners that you know how to keep diverse coalitions together, and that you’d able to represent the firm well if stuck in an elevator with a CEO client.
2. Keep things positive: It’s a proven fact that human beings naturally gravitate toward the most positive person in the room. Want to increase your influence inside the office? Be irresistibly positive and optimistic. This doesn’t mean that you see rainbows and unicorns around every corner – it simply means that when the conversation begins to turn negative, you’re able to reorient it in the opposite direction. Truth is, almost every negative situation has a silver lining in it somewhere. Learn to find it, and you’ll not only be more enjoyable to be around but also a more inspiring and effective leader.
That may sound nice, but you’re one with strong opinions and deep concern for the future. You may really believe that all Democrats are devious, that the future is bleak, or that Republicans are evil. Here’s the thing: we can all agree that political conversation and tone has gotten increasingly negative and that it has to stop somewhere. Where does it start? With us. After all, you believe that people are generally good, that the systems we have in place will ultimately prevail, and that lending your voice to the discussion will make a positive impact. There is a silver lining, and you can be the one to point it out.
3. Keep an open mind: As smart as you are, it is possible for you to be wrong every now and again. Having the self-awareness to realize this and be willing to learn from those you’d never agree with is a hallmark of effective leadership. Active listening – where you’re actually listening to understand instead of listening until you have the opportunity to rebut an argument – will not only lead to a more holistic perspective on things for you but will also gain you friends and allies in the workplace. You never know when a certain connection will come in handy, be it in one year at your current firm or ten years down the line in the industry. Keep your network as large as possible, and it will benefit you in the long run.
Easier said than done, right? We challenge you: this next month, go up to someone in the office with opposite political opinions, ask them to dinner, and learn about why they believe what they believe. Make it clear right up front that you’re not there to have an argument or try and “convert” them, just to simply understand what has shaped their thinking. Not only will you learn something, but you’ll have a deeper working relationship with your colleague as well.
Bonus tip: Keep it civil on social media! Nothing on the internet is ever temporary, so make sure as you have discussions on social media that you keep in mind that your actions are a reflection on the firm (and more importantly, yourself) at all times.
These three strategies have been applicable through all political administrations, but with the hardening divide in American politics today, we need a refresher on them now more than ever.