AUGUSTA, Ga,. (WJBF)– We’ve been through a lot over the last 10 months.

Many of us have been sick, we’ve lost loved ones, and when you’d think the challenges of Covid would pull us together, politics is pulling us apart.

You know what they say: be careful when your dinnertime conversation turns to religion or politics!

And now… after a bitter election season, recounts, runoffs, and the recent violence at the U.S. Capitol… Americans are more divided than ever.

Many are praying for a peaceful transition of power Wednesday at the Presidential Inauguration of Joe Biden, an event that’s seeing unprecedented security measures in Washington, D.C. and state capitols all over the country.

For a lot of us, engaging in political discussions right now feels risky, to say the least.

Sharon Schweitzer, J.D., is a diversity and inclusion consultant, cross-cultural trainer, modern manners and etiquette expert, and the founder of Access to Culture. She offers the following suggestions, beginning with engaging in respectful conversation.

Political conversations may be taboo among your colleagues, and the conversation starter in your social circles. Know your audience before engaging. Express your beliefs in a way that avoids a political brawl – by citing research and concrete reasons why your views align a certain way. Encourage an intellectual conversation not a war of opinions. Just as you want to express your beliefs, be courteous and let the person you are speaking to express his or her beliefs, even if you disagree.

  • Exercise your right to remain silent, keeping your views private: Keeping your opinion to yourself can be difficult, however privacy is possible. If you don’t wish to share your views or are responding to your boss, for example, consider something like, “In the aftermath of such a contentious election, I’m keeping my opinion to myself. I do appreciate your interest.” By acknowledging and thanking them for their genuine interest, you deflect a potentially unpleasant political conversation, and keep your views private.
  • Respond graciously when faced with a persistent questioner: If they are persistent and continue asking for your opinion, you can play the undecided card and change the subject. “I’m still deciding if I will watch the inauguration, it depends on my workload that week. I haven’t made up my mind yet.” Then segue to another topic. Inquire about something meaningful, such as: “I hear your daughter was accepted to MIT, and your son to Stanford. Congratulations!” “The clients sent great feedback about the draft annual report – we are 99% finalized. How did you do it?” “Tell me about your scuba diving trip over the holidays. You’re still so tan!”
  • Reconcile conflicting beliefs: It’s inevitable that disagreements will arise, but when they do, handle them with grace, dignity and respect. For example: “That’s an interesting way to look at it and you bring up some valid points; however, I feel that…” Never raise your voice, show anger, abruptly walkaway or make it personal.
  • Handle yourself, either way: Whether you decide to respond or not, be tactful, polite, and remember that educated responses will help you either to cordially engage, or graciously decline these conversations. An example would be, “I am basing my political decision at this point in time on research results from and then cite a resource that this person respects – not one that will antagonize them. This requires you to be familiar with various resources and points of view.
  • Find a balance: Ultimately, take time to self-assess your comfort level. Be authentic and make an informed decision. Find a balance that makes you comfortable and stay the course so you “don’t change horses in midstream” as we say in Texas.

In addition to her accreditation in intercultural management from the HOFSTEDE Centre and the Intercultural Communication Institute, Sharon Schweitzer is an attorney and mediator. She has a wealth of international experience, traveling to 80 countries.

She works with global organizations, law firms, universities and executive teams, providing practical techniques to improve business communication and increase revenue.