Election Day in the office is a minefield.
As a general rule you shouldn't discuss politics in the workplace. This is a space for professional conduct and, for better or worse, political discussions are anything but. Most days the best way to handle that colleague with the crazy views is to ignore his bumper sticker, focus on getting through the tasks at hand and watching how much you drink at the office holiday party.
This has never been more true than in 2016. The past year's presidential election has raised unusually intense passions on all sides of the aisle, from the Democrats and Republicans who see this as an existential election, to the Independents who treat voting as a smug lifestyle choice.
Many of us have been able to paper over these differences so far, the same way you smile and change the subject at an elderly relative's vaguely twisted comments. Election Day makes it harder, though. The issue is front and center. Banners are everywhere, people are taking time off to hit the polls, and well-deserved "I Voted" stickers are pushing the issue front and center all day long.
To figure out how to get through this with a minimum of bother, we spoke with Monster.com's Vicki Salemi on handling Election Day in the office. Perhaps unsurprisingly, her main advice when it comes to talking politics tomorrow is: don't.
"The best way to handle politics in the office is to avoid them altogether," she said. "Do not bring them up, and if someone else does, try to bridge the conversation into another topic."
For example, if someone wants to talk immigration, try and segue the conversation to pop culture: "Did you know that one of the founding fathers was an immigrant? And how about Hamilton!" From there it's an easy hop to NBC's superlative The Good Place, and pretty soon you're all getting lost in Ted Danson's eyes. Or take the global reference to talk about travel and upcoming vacation schedules. "You know, I was down in Mexico just last year, and my girlfriend and I are thinking about Toronto over New Year's. Any restaurant suggestions?"
Pivoting away from an uncomfortable subject not only avoids the issue, but keeps you from seeming rude and dismissive while doing so.
Of course, this isn't always so easy. Oftentimes, the election brings up issues that are particularly sensitive or touch on essential right and wrong. It's one thing to ignore differences on tax policy and the proper role of government in health care, but what about sexism? Racism? What do you do when a colleague crosses the line from political differences to outright bigotry?
For starters, make sure this isn't actually about you.
"First," Salemi said, "you need to be aware of what ignites you - what spark could set you off. Monitor your own behavior. You don't want to unleash on a colleague because you're angry at something that was reported in the media. Find another outlet [for that] outside the office, like burning off steam at the gym."
And she raises an excellent point. While taking a stand against the office neo-Nazi might seem brave in principle, be careful before deciding which hill to die on. Maybe this coworker's rhetoric really is that repellent, or maybe you've just had a bad day and are already primed for a fight.
"Ask yourself if this is something you should be engaging in," Salemi said. "Although it may feel good to get it off your chest, you may become agitated hearing about your colleague's views and their inability to hear yours. Assume nothing good will come from the conversation, but that it could potentially derail you and make you uncomfortable working with that person in the future."
"There's really nothing you can do about your coworker supporting someone you do not believe in," she added, "let alone don't want to run the country."
Still, sometimes a coworker's opinions do cross the line from politics and into a hostile work environment. We've seen more of that this year than any other, to the extent that even the KKK has become an open participant in this election. You're entitled to feel uncomfortable under those circumstances, but still not to start break room brawls.
That's what human resources is for or, in a small business, the manager.
Politically-charged conflicts very rarely end well. If the situation truly is one of inappropriate behavior in the workplace, you certainly won't make it any better by picking a fight. Instead, approach your manager and simply discuss the fact that a colleague's behavior has made you uncomfortable the same way you would on any other day.
"There's a fine line - a gray area - when political opinions start seeping into an HR matter," Salemi said. "You have every right to go to HR because when certain topics come up, they not only make you uncomfortable - it's potentially a scenario of bias in the workplace."
"Also," she added, "a bigger, underlying issue may be emerging here. HR absolutely needs to know this is going on because if they're getting complaints and concerns from countless departments, then they need to do something about the culture and environment and what's appropriate for the workplace."
Try to start by giving your colleague the benefit of the doubt, though. Remember that passions run high during elections. While many of us jump to thinking the worst of Conservatives orLiberals, most of the time this is a well-meaning person who just thinks differently than you. Before escalating a conflict, try simply telling the person that he has made you uncomfortable.
That same goes for the office zealot.
If not talking politics at the office is wise, not canvassing for a candidate should go without saying. But we all know people who do it anyway. From slapping a "Stronger Together" sticker on the cubicle wall to handing out literature on Chinese currency manipulation, some people see the office as a captive audience for their get out the vote shtick.
Don't feel the slightest guilt about asking them to cut it out.
"You must create boundaries or you're going to hear about it incessantly," Salemi said. "As if this election isn't already flooding your Facebook stream enough, if you don't set boundaries you'll also be surrounded by it at work when you're trying to actually be productive."
It's not rude to be direct. Asking your colleague very specifically to stop talking politics is a fair request.
This is particularly true for folks who feel like strangers in a strange land. Whether Hillary-loving liberals deep in the heart of Texas, or Tea Partiers in Manhattan, it's easy to feel not just alone but deeply marginalized when everyone agrees that your deeply held views are stupid, wrong and dumb. Also.
Salemi's advice: take a few deep breaths and remain professional.
"Consider this," she said. "If you practiced a religion that was different from most others in your office, how would you handle that? Again, also unrelated to work but may occasionally come up in conversation."
"And to avoid feeling disrespected, you may have to say something like, 'O.K., I know my political stance and yours don't match up, so we need to agree to disagree and move this off the table. O.K.?'" Salemi added. "The key here is to respect others even when their opinions differ from yours… and in turn, remind them that they need to respect yours."
Perhaps the most important maxim for handling the election comes from the business world: assume good intent. These are your coworkers, colleagues and often friends. They haven't devised their opinions out of corruption or bigotry, so start by assuming that they're good people who mean well.
It'll do a lot to clear the air until November 9.