You think you're addicted to politics — well, guess what, it's not merely an American affliction. An article in USA today (yes, they have articles as well as pretty pictures) details the sticky situations that international businessfolks are walking into when they shoot the breeze with their overseas colleagues. The curiosity about our election has reached fever pitch, and more than a few people have found themselves feeling uncomfortable with a co-worker or taxi driver on their travels. What to do? Here are a few of the guidelines that Mercedes Alfaro, an international business etiquette expert, suggests. Want more? She'll be on the show today.
Don't bring up politics yourself. Let them be the one to raise the subject.
Don't get involved. "You don't want to create any situation where you lose control of your emotions," Alfaro says.
Listen and ask questions. If you must get involved in the discussion, listen more than you speak and ask questions to learn more about others' views. "Learn how to weed out those guys who are baiting you from those who want to learn something new," says Richard Arndt, author of The First Resort of Kings: American Cultural Diplomacy in the Twentieth Century.
Be prepared for blunt questions. "A question that's perfectly innocent (from the perspective of your counterpart) may seem brash or rude to you," says Jason Hancock of Arlington, Va., an international business development consultant who's worked overseas during every election cycle since 1992. "If you react negatively, the discussion could take a negative turn, and one or both of you may become needlessly offended - and that could damage the working relationship."
Consider other viewpoints besides yours. Foreigners often track our election process closely, so if you do reply, make sure you're well informed of others' viewpoints. "Don't stray into territory where you'll be ill-suited to provide a meaningful, informed response," Hancock says.
Remember your role. Don't forget that you are an unofficial diplomat.
Hail a cab. If you must get politics out of your system while abroad, talk to people you're not doing business with. "Tell the taxi driver all you want," Alfaro says. "You'll never see him again."
Come to think of it — those aren't bad rules for a talk show, either...