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You may have noticed our current political landscape is a wee bit volatile. You can barely mention the weather without someone blaming their least favorite politician in a detailed, increasingly explosive all-capped scree about why they’ve ruined clouds for everyone and THE RAIN IS THEIR FAULT! As much as you’d like to correct them, perhaps with jiujitsu or a handy table lamp, you know that’s unprofessional, and so is talking politics.
If you’re in a group of your peers, the chances someone will bring up current inflammatories from the Twitterverse is 100 percent. When this happens, you’re suddenly in the worst spotlight imaginable.
Your first thought, of course, is: Seriously?
Say you’re at an evening event. You’re there to impress clients and that one partner who won’t return your calls. You were just about to bring up intellectual property law as it relates to emerging biopharma start-up white paper production. Then Steve shoulders his way into the group and belches out, “Did you see what [your least favorite incendiary politician] said? Oh my God, what an idiot!”
You can take the high road and say you’d rather not get political, but opposing counsel is already raising her eyebrows and crossing her arms. You know she’s going to “oh really” you until you lose it and start shouting.
Fortunately, there are proven tactics to avoid this — and none of them involve Stevecide.
You just want it over with so you can move on to something more pleasant like autopsies or 19th-century train wrecks. So just go there. You’re probably not the only one in the group staring at your shoes and wondering how to swerve. Ram your new subject into the conversation like the A-Team skidding into a street fight. Your associates will jump on board like they’re being rescued. Go baller and say, “That reminds me of why I like unicorns … ” then look Steve dead in the eye and ask him, “You’re a unicorn guy, right Steve?”
Boom, the conversation is no longer political, everyone is saved and you’re Mr. T.
There’s no stronger diplomacy than flattery. This technique uses the power of etiquette and a touch of psychology to convince the offending party to talk about himself. When Steve starts talking about his love of unicorns and it turns into a rant about the EPA, just do this: “Steve, I swear to God this is fascinating. I truly want to hear what you have to say about anti-unicorn regulations, but what I really want to hear is your opinion on submarines.”
This is a conversation-changing trifecta: You’ve flattered his audacious position, validated its importance to you, and asked him to share further wisdom on another topic — which he can’t avoid because you were full-on Canadian. Not only will Steve change course, when he finally wanders off, that one partner you want to impress will probably reach over and gently clink his whiskey glass against yours as if to say, “You, my friend, are a genius.”
This is the Miss Manners Gambit minus manners. For example, Steve’s run out of submarine anecdotes. He blindsides you by asking what you think about the recent nudism laws. He’s nakedly baiting you because he knows you’re anti-nudism and he’s not wearing pants. You could strategically redirect your hot coffee, but instead, try diverting the question onto something less au naturel. “I did hear about that, Steve.” Then turn to the group and ask “Hey, did anyone else see that video about jousting cats?” Since 940 million people watched that jousting cat video, you know everyone except Steve is gonna start oh-my-Godding all over it. Hell, after a minute even Steve’s gonna chuckle and admit it’s his screensaver.
Facepalm! He won’t stop. He keeps bringing it up. Keeps thrusting nudism into the damn conversation and glaring at you. It looks like you’ll have to join in the brouhaha against your better judgment. But you can still not talk politics by using two time-tested techniques. The first, from the founding father of logical debate, Socrates. You’ll recall your introduction to the Socratic method from Philosophy 101, when your professor drove you to madness by asking you a question, then after you answered, another question, then another, and so on until you dropped out and became a street musician. The Socratic dialogue’s purpose is to make someone fill out their original premise with deeply considered intellectual support. When there isn’t any support, the dialogue tends to end abruptly with plenty of cursing.
The second technique is also ancient. It’s been employed by your stupid little sister for her entire life. No matter what Steve says, respond with “So?” It’ll throw Steve off his game and put him in a defensive position. It’s also delightfully annoying.
But of course, Steve can’t give it up. He’s still ranting about how nudist beaches are going to shut down and HOW ARE PEOPLE GONNA PROPERLY TAN? He’s clutching at his suit like it’s on fire and flagrantly dangling an argumentative carrot in your face. In your face. At this point, the only path left is prudence. Say nothing. Look at your drink. Count the buttons on Larry’s vest. Let it all ride. You do not have to participate. It is possibly the noblest of responses because by returning Steve’s goading with silence, you are practically screaming “I am more dignified than you, you witless buffoon!” And everyone can hear it plain as day.
You can let Steve implode. It’s not your job to fix Steve. That’s what HR is for.
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