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Managing human politics in social and workplace settings

Updated on August 12, 2012
Managing political conversations poses some unique social challenges.
Managing political conversations poses some unique social challenges.

How you handle human politics depends on what you wish to accomplish. If you want to totally avoid politics in social situations or the workplace, you may find yourself very frustrated. Politics are a major part of our lives. Bear in mind that politics and policy have the same root. With that in mind, the policies of the workplace and the policies of social settings often determine what is discussed, how those discussions are handled and when they are discussed. The question, “How does one manage human politics, whether social or in the workplace?” itself uses politics to manage politics.

In terms of managing social situations, the options available to you depend on your position in social settings or the workplace. If you are a supervisor, you can put limits on what discussions are appropriate and which are not. Once such a policy is made, you can then take steps directed at enforcing the policy.

If you are a peer and are wanting to avoid such discussions, some of the ways of doing that are changing the topic, acting bored, or telling them that you do not feel comfortable discussing your views in that setting. Exercising such options does not automatically mean that those attempting to engage you will respect what you are doing. They may ‘test limits’ and continue pressing the issue. In such cases, you are dealing more with a zealot who is already disrespecting you. When they disrespect your interventions, the likelihood is that they will disrespect your opinion as well.

Since political discussions often involve volatile issues which people have strong feelings about, you may have to be careful about who you share your views with. When political discussions occur around issues that are highly polarizing, there can be severe consequences. You may even be at risk of loosing your job, a promotion or social standing based on your political views. When you live in a nation where political views can be threatening to you or your family, it is best to avoid all political discussions when possible. Some political people may take your non-participation as ‘opposition’. These types of individuals pose serious challenges.

Within every social situation, there are topics that are ‘hot buttons’ for either you or those you are with. You may want to know what your own hot buttons are. When people say things that push your button, you will want to consider whether it is the time or place to address it. Choosing not to discuss politics when it is not the time or place does not mean that you lost anything. If you are a person who thinks in terms of win/lose, such situations will be tough for you, since anytime that you do not win, you assume that you lose. That kind of thinking will only get you into more discussions, it will not help you win them.

If you are wanting to direct the political discussions in a particular direction, which is a form of management, there are different tactics you want to use. In such cases, you may want to turn every discussion into a potential political one. This can be done by mentioning a common problem, which you can present your political view as the solution to the problem. When politics are brought up just for the sake of politics and lively conversations, it can have disastrous consequences. Few people like hearing about problems all the time or what is wrong all the time. Always bringing up problems will give you a reputation for ‘negativity’.

When you do not manage political conversations, they may go in a direction that you do not want them to go. Conversations without boundaries often turn into monsters. Very often when people bring up politics, they know at that point where they want the conversation to end. You will want to know what your own limitations to political discussions are. If you are the one directing the conversation, you will need to have the social skills to take the conversation where you wish it to go. Healthy conversations have give and take, unhealthy ones are filled with one person speaking and the other being a victim. You may victimize your audience, but that does not mean the you won them over to your side.

Although respectful debates about political issues sound nice, they rarely happen that way. Once politics are brought into the conversation, it turns the relationship into a win/lose dynamic. If you do not want to be caught in such a bind, avoid the issue. Skilled political manipulators know how to steer the conversation. Unskilled manipulators often resort to name calling, sarcasm, verbal attacks and broad generalizations when they begin loosing ground. You will want to avoid discussing politics with these types. They often think they know more than they do. You will not be able to change their mind, and staying in the discussion will be at the risk of your relationship to them.

These guidelines will give you a place to start in terms of managing political conversations. When you are dealing with an expert or someone well experienced or someone who is a heavy political hitter, there are other skills which you need to master.

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