November 7, 2016

Political and Presidential Election Small Talk Dos and Don’ts in the USA

In Small Talk training programs in India, Indian professionals are divided on whether or not talking about politics is acceptable at work. While my personal experience as an American working in India has shown me in general that Indians are more comfortable talking about politics at work, there are definitely certain people, even in India, who prefer to keep their political opinions out of the office environment. 

Since talking about politics seems to be more common or accepted especially in work-related small talk in offices in Kerala, India, I would like to share some dos and don’ts I have observed while working in the U.S. in regards to talking about politics and presidential elections in the U.S.

When is Election Day in the U.S.?
A Peek Inside a Voting Booth
Click to see a bigger size.
Election Day is the first Tuesday after the first Monday in the U.S. Unlike in India, there is no day off (leave) from work on Election Day. More about Elections in the U.S. at Wikipedia

Where do people go to vote?
Unlike in India, where it may be necessary to go to one’s native place or panchayat to vote, Americans can register to vote in the county or area they live in, even if that is not where they were born or originally are from. Voting places may be local schools, fire stations, or community centers. Some states have early voting to ease polling lines on Election Day. For those who live away from home or out of the country or who are on military duty, they may opt for absentee ballots by postal mail.

Who can vote?
United States citizens 18 years old and over can vote. Based on the state one resides in, one must follow register in the county they live in (barring North Dakota), adhere to registration deadlines, residency requirements and may be asked about their criminal history. More about voter registration guidelines in the U.S. at Wikipedia

How do I know if my colleagues have voted?
Unlike in India, where people get a black marker mark on their index finger, in the U.S., voters may wear a sticker that says ‘I voted.’ Some may wear this to work, while others may not. Some may talk about it, others may not.


Dos and Don’ts for Small Talk 

The Dos:

If you want to initiate the conversation you can ask:
Absentee Ballot
  • Where was the polling place? / Where did you go to vote?
  • Were there long lines? / How long did you have to wait in line?
  • How was it? / What is it like to vote in the U.S.? (Especially if you are a curious expat.)
  • Who were the candidates? / What are all the posts you voted for? (While presidential elections happen only once in every four years, elections do happen every year on rotational basis for a variety of local, state and federal posts.)
  • Who do you think will win?
  • When do we know the results?
  • When do the winners take office?
  • What news, tv stations or radio stations can I listen to for the best news coverage?
  • How do you keep up on the news about the elections?
**The rule of thumb is to ask very general questions that do not point to specific candidates or issues related to the election.**

The Don'ts: 

What you should not say:
  • Who did you vote for? (If they offer it on their own, that’s a different story.)
  • Why did you vote for? / Why didn’t you vote for?
  • Did you vote for (Name of candidate)?
  • Did you vote? / Why didn’t you vote? (If they aren’t wearing a sticker.)
  • Avoid talking about any “hot button” issues. These are issues that touch on religious or moral stances. Some Americans may not like to mention who they voted for in fear that their colleagues/friends/family will think they agree with every single moral issue that candidate supports/believes in. While hot button issues can change from year to year, the Pew Research Center notes the hot button issues as the ones listed in the chart to the right. It’s best to avoid these talking about these issues. 
  • Be careful about social media conversations coming into the office space. Even if you are Facebook friends with a colleague who speaks openly on Facebook about political issues, it's best not to be the one to intiate public discussions in the office on the same topics that may have been posted on Facebook.
While some colleagues may be more open about their political stance at work, some may be very reserved or even prefer not to talk politics at work at all. It’s best to respect all types of people, while not getting too involved in heated discussions or debates at work. 

Feel free to share your experiences talking about politics at work in the US. What are some of the topics you would talk about or avoid. Please feel free to share your stories or tips in the comment section below. 

Jennifer Kumar works with your offshore software development teams to build better working relationships across cultural borders. Contact us for more information.

Photo credits:
I voted sticker:  Michael Bentley @ flickr
Voting Booth: rheanvent @ flickr
I voted early sticker: Beth Wilson @ flickr
Absentee Ballot: Andrew Temam @flickr

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