I’m working on some messaging around world trends with one of my current clients. In other years, those trends would have been things related to a generation, a new technology, or a pop culture phenomena. In rare cases, we would talk about politics in a meeting (and definitely never religion). In today’s world, politics is the topic on most people minds, no matter where in the world you are. Every where you go, you head about #Metoo, Fake News, Black Lives Matter, Blue Lives Matter, Wir Sind das Volk, Soft Brexits, global warming…the list goes on. All interesting dinner conversations and reasons to go to the polls, but not necessarily part of business today.

Some companies are deep in partisan politics and it’s part of their value proposition to get into the mud slinging. This post isn’t for you. This is for the person who wants to do business with a wider variety of folks without politics getting involved. Or for those who want to stay respectful while standing up for what they believe in. This is not meant for those who are politicians, either.

So, how do you acknowledge politics without getting into a debate with your clients and coworkers? Is it even possible? I think it can be, but I don’t pretend to have all the answers for healing the divides in the world right now. I do have some thoughts for not alienating those from the other side, though.

If you and your company are trying to stay apolitical, here are some guidelines to follow on an individual level:

  • Assume that whoever you’re speaking to believes the opposite of what you do unless they say otherwise.
  • Be vague on what you believe and instead stick to the facts. For example, “There are people saying <insert fact>. That is something to keep in mind as we make abc business decision.”
  • Be respectful of opposite belief systems. Don’t say anything that implies that someone on the opposite side is stupid, evil, or lesser than your side.
  • Remember that folks on the other side of the aisle also want what they think is right – you don’t agree on what that is. Assume that you both intend to do good, but might not have the same choice for getting there.
  • Just listen if you discover that your client or coworker does have opposite beliefs. Listen for values you share with this person and respond with those. And if they want to keep going, ask thoughtful questions without judgement. For example, I worked with a number of individuals with different politics than I have in my last job. I knew I liked them on a business level, we both had a love for getting things done in the same way and enjoyed watching the same types of videos on YouTube during moments of levity during tough projects. Rather than mudslinging, I just asked “What’s your logic for that belief? I know we both care about <insert topic in common>, so I’m just curious and want to learn.” Then listen without arguing (this is the hard part, I know). If they ask you your thoughts, stick to your world view. “I want to live in a world where everyone can <insert your desired end state>.”
  • Focus on what’s positive in a situation, rather than what’s negative. Stellar examples how to do this were shared in Joe Biden’s eulogy of John McCain. They were political opposites, but had deep respect for each other and were friends. They focused on respect for the rules and systems set up for the Senate that they both worked in. They also remembered that they had the same goal: to protect and serve the United States.

On a business level, is to stick to business goals:

  • Stay positive in tone. Link messages to the mission of your company. Point out what was done right in a situation that bolsters a business goal for your client or company.
  • Stay factual, and cite your sources. Avoid partisan sources if you can.
  • Respect your core segments. This is always true – know your customer and how they like to be communicated with.

If you or your company has decided to stand for a particular political stance, then you have a bit more leeway. However, being disrespectful to the other side can turn off individuals from your side. I have some advice that I learned when being trained for political work:

  • Stick to your mission. A mission that sticks to an idealized world that you are aiming for will resonate with many consumers more than a tirade against the other side (or another position on the same side).
  • Accentuate the positive. Praise those you agree with rather than putting down those you disagree with.
  • Listen to your customers. Something you should always do – keep checking to ensure that your messages are working.

These are my ideas for avoiding conflict about politics with your coworkers and clients. Do you have any more to share? Comments are welcome.