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Crew Coach: Tread carefully when talk turns to politics

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Crew Coach: by Capt. Rob Gannon

Here in the U.S., there is a political situation that is dividing the country pretty severely right now. This divide, or radically different view of things, can also affect families, friends and coworkers. How we handle it is important in all these relationships. Working and living together on a yacht can make communication challenging in all kinds of ways, but should political talk be discouraged? Avoided?

The generation before mine used to say there are two things you don’t talk about: politics and religion. Well, those days – and many of that generation’s social norms – are gone. Today, overhearing or participating in conversations or debates about both politics and religion is not unusual. It can be tricky ground, though, with a lot of emotion involved – especially in an environment where coworkers also live together.

It’s probably a good idea to develop a personal strategy or approach on how to deal with the subject of politics when  someone wants to engage us in such a conversation. Here are a couple of things to keep in mind:

First, consider the person. Knowing a little about someone’s temperament can be a guide as to whether this emotional topic should be discussed with them. The self-centered, hotheaded, opinionated egomaniac may not be the one to get into it with, since it’s probably not going to go well if they’re coming from a radically different place. Sometimes, if we are conscious and calm, an emotional discussion with that type can change course before crashing hard on the rocks, but more often it can be a shipwreck.

Being selective in who we speak with and careful in how we handle them is a key first step in navigating the political discussion minefield. If everyone shares the same views, it’s all fine. We can just have a good old time expressing our complaints and views about how things should be. But handling the adamant opposing view takes some respectful listening and debating skills for a chance of any kind of positive experience.

Second, understand that there probably will be no winning over or changing anyone in a single conversation. We can go back and forth and think we are making excellent points, and that may well be true – but usually, when all is said and done, each party holds on to their own beliefs and opinions. Those beliefs can run deep. In the living-and-working-together scenario, handle this with care. Also, remember that it’s probably not a good idea to talk politics when lots of alcohol is involved.

So, is it better for the topic of politics just be avoided, or even discouraged or forbidden on board? Should new hires be told the topic is off-limits? Would that be better for all-around morale and teamwork?

If everyone on board had similar viewpoints it probably wouldn’t matter, but in a large enough crew there are bound to be differing views and beliefs. The topic is so emotional for many, it can actually change  how we feel about someone; it can be that powerful. Maybe having that energy in a professional, close-quarters environment is a powder keg that could explode at some point.

What about international crews? Most large yachts these days are pretty mixed. Are foreign opinions respected and welcomed in a discussion of U.S. politics? I think it’s quite interesting and valuable to hear an outside opinion, but some may take offense. It’s quite a potent brew to have stirred up.

It might be best to keep the focus on work and enjoyable activities outside of work, and not get too wrapped up in the daily news and political opinions. The beauty of working on a yacht is that you can cut yourself off a bit from the TV and the noise and just let it be. Do your thing, and try to do it well.

The political climate is pretty rough right now. On one hand, it’s important to be somewhat informed in order to be an educated voter, but the emotions between folks can get a little crazy. It is always our choice whether to engage or not in hot-topic discussions.

Is it proper around the workplace? Is it healthy for a yacht crew? That is a debate in itself.

Teamwork always benefits from being united and working toward a common goal. Be careful of anything that divides the team. Enjoy the voyage.

Capt. Rob Gannon is a 30-year licensed captain and certified life and wellness coach (yachtcrewcoach.com). Comments are welcome below.

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