Negotiating Tip #46:
Navigating the Minefield of Politics
We all know discussing controversial issues at work is a bad idea. But in our increasingly divided society, a comment which in your circles is taken as entirely innocuous may, without you realizing it, inflame those on the other side in a negotiation, who travel in quite different circles from yours. This can be a delicate situation. How to respond can be tricky, especially if you find the other side’s comments to be so offensive that you must register your deep disagreement.
In considering what to do in such a situation, bear in mind some principles from psychological research. A good source is Jeanne Safer, a New York psychologist whose spouse holds political views the exact opposite of hers, in her book I Love You, But I Hate Your Politics and in a recent Wall Street Journal (Loathe Your Loved One’s Politics? Here’s Some Advice) profile.
First, realize that the disagreement is usually not about the ostensible topic under discussion. Psychologists distinguish between “manifest content” – what you think you are talking about – and “latent content” – what you are really talking about. Many disagreements that seem to be about politics are actually bringing up deep feelings.
Second, it is almost impossible to sway someone’s political opinions through a conversation. No matter how clear you think the facts are, the other person is likely to be offended if you take the approach, “Let me show you how you are wrong.” People do change their minds, but very rarely because someone forced them to admit they were wrong.
Third, if the other person insists on talking about politics, your priority should be the relationship rather than making a point. Consider saying, “There are a lot of different ways to look at this” and immediately changing the topic. You do not necessarily have to remain silent in reaction to comments you find offensive, but you can register your deep disagreement and then move on. The only realistic alternative is to end the relationship.