As an election year kicks into high gear with plenty of controversial issues blasting from every news source, it can be hard to steer clear of conversations that could easily take a divisive turn at work. Although you may enjoy a healthy discussion on current events with friends and family, political and controversial dialogue is best left out of the workplace. Things can quickly get intense when coworkers with opposing viewpoints start debating.

1. Don't Initiate the Debate

If a colleague or client asks your opinion regarding a contentious topic, whether that is immigration, healthcare reform or environmental policy, remember that you are not required to chime in with your thoughts. Engaging may spark a lively discussion, but it could also bring out uncomfortable, opposing viewpoints. Calmly state "I have strong opinions but prefer not to engage in an office discussion. I would rather focus my professional energy on how to best serve our clients and I suggest you do the same." Make every attempt to keep your tone pleasant and non-confrontational.

2. Keep a Courteous Tongue

In polite company, there's no room for name-calling or offensive remarks. No matter how strongly-held your opinions are, it is not productive to talk about the other guys as "idiots", "jerks" or worse. Keep in mind you are also bestowing those titles upon your colleagues who support those particular views. Don't shame others with statements like "I can't believe you support that ridiculous amendment!" Aggressive comments lower your personal and professional reputation and are bound to ignite tempers.

3. Read the Crowd

Just because one person is interested in having a heated debate doesn't mean everyone else in the meeting is enjoying the banter. If you find that the conversation is being dominated by a few angry people, it is fair to intervene and shift the discussion back to business: "Would you two kindly continue your debate at a later time? I'd like to hear what everyone thinks about the new content management system."

4. Know Your Facts

If you choose to jump into the fray, be sure that you know what you are talking about. Enter the discussion well-versed in the facts so you can hold up your end of the conversation. Weighing in with unsubstantiated internet gossip doesn't positively contribute to the discussion.

5. Be Open-Minded

No matter how strong your beliefs, wouldn't it be interesting to know what the opposing viewpoint is or why others think the way they do? Ask questions and listen respectfully. It is good practice in keeping your emotions in check and you just might learn something new in the process.

6. Use Your Best Judgment

The enthusiasm or force of your voice when asking to change the subject greatly depends on the relationship you share. For example, if your boss asks your opinion on the Republican candidates, you can say "Now George, I know you are a staunch Democrat and I don't want to put my job on the line based on a topic that I keep private and out of the workplace. I respect your views and hope you understand my decision to respectfully bow out of this conversation."

7. Be Quick to Listen 

If a client begins voicing their thoughts on global warming at the start of your monthly meeting, give them your undivided attention. In most cases, their comments will be short and you can move on to the next line item. If they continue to ramble, look for ways to redirect the conversation back to company business. Professionalism and relationship building is the main priority and it is much less important to be right than to be amicable.

If personal views of controversial topics take over at your place of work or a meeting with a client, keep these etiquette tips in mind to help you guide the conversation back to calmer waters.

Published on: Jan 14, 2016