Help! How can RDH avoid uncomfortable conversations, such as politics?

Thanks to Dentistry IQ and Meg Kaiser for the chance to answer this question in their popular Thursday Troubleshooter column.

QUESTION: We have TVs in the operatories and some patients request news stations when they're in the chair. I always oblige but with the upcoming election it has become a problem. How do I respond to patients who insist on talking politics with me? I usually just say that I don't discuss politics. This doesn't stop some people from spouting their opinions and then looking to me to agree with them, which frequently I don't. It gets quite uncomfortable when they refuse to stop talking  and I don't agree with their opinions. Trying to divert their attention to their oral health doesn't always work since they seem much happier talking about their political beliefs.                                               

ANSWER FROM AMY SMITH, Amy Smith Consulting:

While this question pertains to politics, there are many topics that are best left out of the conversation in a business setting. In addition to politics, religion is usually near the top of the list. But even discussions about such seemingly innocent topics as favorite sports teams or television shows can cause tension. The list goes on and on. No wonder we so often end up talking about the weather.

I recommend you practice using words or phrases with your co-workers that feel and sound natural to you to use in situations like this. Your reply is likely to vary from someone else's depending on how you naturally speak and respond. For some, a simple diversionary question might work, such as, "So, what's happened in your life since we last say you?" If the patient persists on discussing the awkward topic, remember, you do not have to respond at all. Just smile and keep working.

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