How to avoid talking politics while on assignment



It feels impossible to escape talking politics after the last election cycle. There may even be changes coming within the health care field, so it can feel top of mind when you’re at work or speaking with patients. However, in a survey of 500 employees from a range of workplaces, half of them saw discussions evolve into political arguments. We are, overall, consuming more information about politics and as a result, are finding ourselves eager to talk about them. If you’re tempted to take part in political discussions at work, try these tricks for avoiding these types of conversations:

Keep conversations positive

Making small talk about current events is one thing, but to prevent conversations from veering into politically charged topics (especially if it’s a patient that’s becoming impassioned) try to defuse the situation before it escalates. 

The easiest deflection is to excuse yourself by suddenly remembering something you need for their appointment today, or an answer you need to give someone ASAP. Stepping away will give the topic some room to breath and it’ll create an opportunity for you to think of a new one. Consider a vacation anecdote, or a new place you had dinner, or even the success (or failure) of your favorite sports team. Anne-Marie Botek also suggested identifying some common ground on a political topic to stop the conversation from escalating.



What if you’re stuck..

Sometimes, despite our best intentions, patients and co-workers can get heated about political topics. With co-workers, it’s easy to excuse yourself for coffee or a plethora of other things you need, but it’s not always easy to leave the side of a patient. If you find yourself stuck by the side of a patient who isn’t taking your social cues and moving on to another topic, you may have to be more direct – but polite. Ask them specific questions about something they mentioned that’s not political, or completely take control of the conversation and redirect it. Knowing what your political triggers are ahead of arriving at your assignment can help you prepare for diverting conversations that you want to avoid. Melody Wilding noted that thinking ahead can help you from losing your temper on politically charged topics.


So much regarding politics – and the issues they spark – are guided by our personal beliefs. It makes sense that we want others to agree with us. However, if you find yourself in the midst of a political discussion, try to make it a learning experience like Harvard Business Review suggested. By acknowledging that people have real reasons for their beliefs, it makes it easier for you to show empathy for their point of view. In addition, your acknowledgment conveys respect which could cause the other person to consider another side of an issue.

The mania surrounding our current political atmosphere won’t be going away any time soon. So try borrowing some of these tips in order to keep the peace when working with patients and other therapists who enjoy political discussions or debates.