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Heavy Meddle: Help! My Colleague Won't Keep His Political Opinions To Himself

How do I tell my co-worker to leave his politics at home? (ScoRDS/flickr)
How do I tell my co-worker to leave his politics at home? (ScoRDS/flickr)
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Welcome Meddleheads, to the column where your crazy meets my crazy! Please send your questions to advice@wbur.org. Right now. Not only will you immediately feel much better, you’ll also get some advice.

Hugs,
Steve

Dear Steve,

How do you deal with completely inappropriate workplace political discussions in a way other than yelling about the other parties being uninformed right-wing nut jobs?

Signed,
Loaded for Papa Bear


PHOTO

Dear LPB,

The short answer here is very simple: walk away. And I don’t mean walk away in a huff. And I don’t mean walk away while your co-worker is ranting. I mean simply that the moment the conversation turns towards politics, politely excuse yourself. This isn’t your only option. But if you really want this person (and I’m just going to go out on a sexist limb here and guess that it’s a dude) to stop puking up his Fox News talking points in the office, his angry little bulletins from the Kingdom of Frightened White People, you have to remove yourself from the audience. Because that’s what guys like this are looking for: an audience and an argument.

And how do I know this? Because I’m one of those guys, too, though I come at things from the other direction. The mentality that drives us to hold forth and provoke co-workers arises from a sense of grievance. It’s kind of like an overactive gland that makes us seek out conflict. I say none of this proudly. But that’s what you’re up against.

This is how life often operates in a larger sense. There are people out there — in your family, in your workplace, sometimes in your bedroom — who want to do the dance. Your job is not to do the dance, not to give us anything to hold on to, not the least little smidge of passive-aggressive energy.

At this point you may be saying to yourself: but that’s no fun! Also: won’t that be seen as a surrender? Perhaps even as tacit approval of this person’s blowhardery? If you feel this way — and your question kind of implies a backlog of frustration — then you have two other options.

I strongly suggest just walking away. But you do have options.

The first is to tell your boss that this person is engaging in political discussions that are inappropriate for the work place and distracting you from your job. Get the boss to shut him down. If this feels dishonorable or sneaky, then tell your co-worker that you’re going to inform your boss if he doesn’t pipe down. Say it politely, even sympathetically if you can manage. Remember: he’s not mouthing off in this sad lonely way because he’s so darn happy with this life. The guy has an overactive gland.

Your other option is more or less guaranteed to end in disaster, but I’ll mention it anyway. If you think this guy is a bully who’s not going to shut up until someone shuts him up, and if you think you’re up to the task, you can challenge him to a public debate. Say to him: “Listen, it’s clear you love to talk politics and want people to debate with, so I’m going to make your day. Let’s take this discussion out of the office — where it doesn’t belong — and let’s get organized about it. I hereby challenge you to a formal public debate, with agreed upon topics and clear rules for who gets to speak when, and a moderator, and a politically diverse audience. If you’re not willing to debate me in public, then (please) refrain from spreading your rhetorical pollution in the professional atmosphere of our office.”

The goal here is not to win this guy over to some greater morality, or tolerance, or mercy, or allegiance to reality. That’s never going to happen. The idea is just to force him to present his ideas and “facts” in an arena larger and more nuanced than the echo chamber in which he lives.

I strongly suggest just walking away. But you do have options.

If you do decide to challenge him to a debate, please do film the proceedings, so I can post them in some future column.

Onward, together,
Steve

Okay folks, now it's your turn. Did I get it right, or muck it up? Let me know in the comments section. And please do send your own question along, the more detailed the better. Even if I don't have a helpful response, chances are someone in the comments section will. Send your dilemmas via email.

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