Q&A: Is it taboo to talk about religion and politics in the office?

Never make assumptions about a colleague’s political beliefs and be prepared to agree to disagree.

While there’s no cut-and-dried answer to this one, Ottawa-based etiquette expert Julie Blais Comeau says there’s a list of dos and don’ts to consider. First, the don’ts: never assume the political beliefs of others (“just because someone looks like a Liberal or a Catholic, it does not make him a Liberal or Catholic — even if he always wears a red tie and a cross,” she says) and “don’t make things personal — not only with your words, but also with your body language and tone when listening to others.” While you’re at it, don’t fake it. “When you don’t know about a situation, ask for more information. Try: ‘I never thought about it that way; that’s interesting.’”

As for the dos, be sure to keep it objective. “State the facts while keeping a general perspective. This includes presenting numbers, as in surveys and statistics.” And, probably most importantly, have a few exit phrases ready. “When you feel insulted or vexed and feel your face flushing, breathe. And make a polite request to agree to disagree,” she says. Try: “You and I are both passionate about this topic. Because I value you and our relationship, let’s just agree to disagree.” If you’re put on the spot, try: “Ooh la la, that’s a slippery slope. I’ll take the Fifth on this one. I’d better get back to work.” 

About the Author

Lisa van de Geyn

Lisa van de Geyn is a freelance writer based in Toronto.

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