The 2020 Election – A Survival Guide for Talking about the Election at Work

October 29, 2020 3:10 pm Published by

Learn how to cope with election related discussions at work.

Well, here we are, on the verge of the long anticipated (and for some, dreaded) 2020 elections. The tension is thick in the air – within the culture at large, on the airwaves and Internet, within families, and within workplaces. 

A number of factors combine to create a significant sense of uneasiness for most of us:

  -the unpredictability of the results

  -the strong feelings many have related to the issues intertwined with the election

  -fears about potential violence and destruction of property after the election

  -concerns about how the results of the elections will impact our future lives.

So, the tension seems to be justified.

What to Do?

The behavioral options for responding to the angst we feel are almost as numerous as individual personalities. But there are five general responses, on a continuum, which encompass the way most people react.

1.Not interacting with others (at all).  If you don’t talk with others, you aren’t going to talk about the election. Problem: this isn’t a realistic option over time.

2.Avoid talking about the election. Avoid the topic. Stick to communicating about business-related issues. Problem 1: This probably isn’t realistic for very long. Problem 2: You can’t control what other people talk about and they are going to raise the topic.

3.Minimize the election-related conversations. Keep interactions brief. Don’t share much in response to questions or comments by others. Problem 1: This approach takes a fair amount of emotional energy to implement consistently. Problem 2: Some people may be offended by your apparent cool, distant approach.

4.Let ‘er fly. Freely share your thoughts and opinions (to whoever will listen or is in the room). Problem: A high probability exists of creating discomfort for others, possibly offending some, and potentially resulting in a confrontational interaction with a colleague who disagrees with your comments.

5.Attempt to have a conversation focused on understanding others. Since there will probably be others who have different viewpoints than yours, this is an opportunity to listen to their perspective and try to gain a better understanding of what is important to them (their values). Problem 1: This can take a lot of emotional energy, especially when the topic of discussion is one about which you hold deep (and different) beliefs. Problem 2: You can control your interaction and responses, but you do not control how your colleague is going to react during the conversation. (Note that most people are fairly calm when they feel the other person is seeking to understand, rather than to argue or defend their own position.)

Reality-based Reminders

It is helpful to remind ourselves about some foundational facts about the situation. These include:

  – People have differing viewpoints. (And unless you live in a homogeneous viewpoint bubble, some individuals with whom you interact will disagree with your perspective.)

  – Many people have intense feelings about the election. Why? Because they have core beliefs and deeply held values that intersect with the potential results of the election.

  – Some people share their thoughts and feelings freely (possibly more than you desire to hear them). This means you are going to have to figure out a process for managing this probable event.

  – You probably aren’t going to change someone’s mind (and it may not matter if they have already voted). This is true even if your view is “right” and you are an amazing communicator.  Why? Because our values and core beliefs develop over time and are not easily changed.

 – A good possibility exists that we may not know the results of the election for several days (or longer). As a result, conversations about the election (before, during and after) will stretch out for days. You should consider this factor as you communicate with others.

 – You will almost certainly have ongoing (even long-term) relationships with your work compatriots. Remember that you are going to be working with (and for) your colleagues, making and handling requests from them, and collaborating as a team together. Consider your words and reactions to others in light of this longer-term perspective.

Tips for Handling Difficult Situations

One initial tip. Before you initiate (or enter into) a conversation about the election, answer this question: What is the purpose (for you) of talking about the election?

            a. Just friendly conversation

            b. To challenge / correct others’ positions and beliefs

            c. To complain about … (whatever you think is wrong about the process or current situation)

            d. To vent to someone (who potentially agrees with you)

Additionally, consider these practical suggestions:

  • Manage yourself, your emotional reactions, and what you say. Know your limits – what you can and probably shouldn’t talk about, and with whom.
  • Limit the length of conversations. The longer we talk, the more likely we are to say something we’ll regret later.
  • Focus on relating to others from a place of kindness and respect (rather than focusing on “being right”).
  • Think ahead about some strategies for managing stressful situations. Excusing yourself and leaving the room. Going for a walk. Finding a place to take some deep breaths and calm yourself.
  • Realize when you are reaching a point where “you’ve had enough.” Pay attention to your internal cues (tension in your jaw, neck, back; feeling physically hot; early signs of agitation and anger). Take action to manage your reaction before you “lose it.”

Hopefully, these reminders and suggestions will help you (and those around you) reduce the stress around election conversations and continue to build positive, supportive relationships at work.


For advice on how to handle other difficult situations in the workplace, check out Rising above a Toxic Workplace: Taking Care of Yourself in an Unhealthy Environment.

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October 29, 2020 3:10 pm


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