The presidential race may feel like it's been going on for an eternity already, but the contest kicked off in earnest last night with the Iowa caucuses. Cue much water cooler chatter today about Cruz's victory or the nail-biter between Clinton and Sanders.

Which is fine if the whole office is feeling the Bern, or you're all OK with your boss being a rapid Trump supporter. But what if opinions at work are decidedly mixed? Are you doomed to either pretend America isn't electing a new president between the hours of nine and five or nearly come to blows with your vastly more conservative/liberal co-workers?

Thankfully, Chicago Tribune reporter Rex Huppke is on the case. Like everyone else, he understands the impossibility of always avoiding political discussions at work and the need to somehow keep these conversations civil. So he went digging for a solution. He found it in Louise Phipps Senft and William Senft.

A married pair of experienced mediators, the Senfts are also the authors of a book entitled Being Relational: The Seven Ways to Quality Interaction and Lasting Change, which offers a blueprint for talking about contentious subjects in a respectful and fruitful manner. That's just the ticket, thought Huppke who spoke with William Senft and boiled down his advice into a three-step process for calm, cool discussions.

Step 1: Decide whether to engage.

Senft thinks it's important to talk about difficult subjects like presidential politics and the future of our democracy -- but only if the moment is right. "You need to decide what the right setting is for that conversation. Is it one where you feel you have the time or space to give it the proper attention, so that you can be fully present and attentive when you're with the other person, so you can engage?" he asks.

So forget trying to convince that Cruz-supporting colleague of Hillary's charms while holding a sandwich in the hallway. If you're going to talk politics, make sure you have the time and space to really talk.

Step 2: Be ready to change your mind too.

What's the point of talking to someone if you're convinced you can't learn anything from the exchange? If you're going to engage someone in discussion you need to show a little humility and respect by actually listening to what they have to say.

"You are really trying to look hard at your own assumptions and beliefs and asking yourself, 'Do I really know that they're true? How do I know that? Could there be information that I don't have that I need to be more informed?' You may be absolutely correct about what you believe, but you're open to the 'maybe not,'" instructs Senft.

Step 3: Don't think of it as a competition.

This step sounds like it could sometimes be pretty hard in practice, but Senft suggests keeping your impulse to "win" the conversation at bay is essential.

"We function in a very competitive society, so we tend to deal with issues in a competitive manner. It's like this legalistic approach. You bring your biggest and baddest arguments and I'll bring out my biggest and baddest arguments and we'll see who wins. Quality dialogue is not a competitive process," he insists. "That doesn't mean you give up on persuading other people. It means you're being open and generally willing to consider other people's arguments."

What's your approach to discussing politics at work -- avoid or engage?