me, talking about awkward conversations and politics at work

If you wish you had a magic wand that you could wave to get your boss or your coworkers to change their behavior without you having to actually, you know, talk to them about it, you are not alone. I recorded a piece for the BBC about how people shy away from even minor conversations that are highly unlikely to end badly. It’s four minutes long and you can listen here.

I was also on Marketplace talking about the general hellhole that is discussing politics at work. You can listen here:

{ 23 comments… read them below }

  1. Andrea*

    Heard this in the wild on my way to work this week! I admit that I squealed a little in the car when the host said Alison Green! Great segment. It’s tough to avoid these topics, especially in the past two years.

  2. Database Developer Dude*

    I definitely want to keep politics out of the workplace. It’s just too much of a minefield.

  3. Life is good*

    In my geographical area, the red hats are all the rage. I just bite my tongue whenever a co worker or client starts on their rants about all the liberals. Once at my old dysfunctional job, we were at an all hands luncheon and a manager said she “wants to shoot that man” referring to a certain former President, while he was still in office……AS PART OF HER SPEECH TO THE GROUP!!! It is so hard to not say anything, but saying something here would be like giving me enough rope to hang myself. HR wouldn’t have done a thing.

    So, while the rules of etiquette say polite conversation doesn’t include religion or politics, that isn’t practiced in my region, unfortunately.

    1. Phoenix Programmer*

      I think the idea that polite conversation excludes politics is a big part of how we got here in America’s wasteland of a political landscape. If debating is automatically rude then whatsso bad about going one step further and painting the entire other side as enemyies of the State?

      It’s possible to be polite and and still disagree. If Americans practices the skill more maybe we could pass more than an appropriations bill from time to time.

      1. Jennifer Juniper*

        There’s a time and a place for politics. The workplace isn’t one of them. I have no problem talking about politics when I’m not working in the elections.

      2. Database Developer Dude*

        The problem, Phoenix, is that we’re (as a group) not rational actors. We’re tribal. The other side is painted as evil rather than just wrong based not on actions, but beliefs and ideology.

    2. Database Developer Dude*

      Those same types would absolutely lose their ish if anyone referred to ‘their guy’ as anything less than a God. That’s why you can’t talk politics at work…it’s way too much of a minefield. I just want to get my work done.

  4. Jennifer Juniper*

    Politics, like religion and sex, needs to stay far, far away from the workplace.

    And now, a PSA for American readers
    (to the tune of Take Me Out to the Ballgame)

    Vote, vote, vote in the midterms!

    Go, go go and do it!

    Get off your keister get down to the polls

    I don’t care how just get on out there!

    Well it’s vote, vote vote for your country

    If you do not shame on you!

    For yes, yours, mine, all our votes count

    So get on out

    and VOTE!

    1. Voter*

      Out of curiosity, how do you square this exhortation to vote with your “no political talk in the workplace” stance? People need to take time off from work to vote.

      Also, one way you get people invested in candidates, and thus more likely to vote, is by thing so like bumper stickers, pins, meetups, etc.

      At our workplace we encourage people to volunteer on a campaign of their choice and are allowed three paid days off to do this.

      1. Alldogsarepuppies*

        1. Many people vote before or after work, so you don’t need to take time off.
        2. Taking time off isn’t talking about politics.
        2b. Even if you say “I’m taking time off to vote” isn’t political. “I’m taking time off so I can vote x canidate out of office because his views on y issue is gross” is. But there is a different.
        3. The merch you talked about doesn’t need to come into the office.
        4. Its great your work place gives PTO to canvass etc. I hope people take advantage.

      2. TardyTardis*

        In Oregon, we vote by mail, or by dropping the ballot off in a box behind the government building downtown, or at the Senior Center, or at various other official venues. Drive by voting, only in America! Gives us time to research the issues, no taking time off work, no standing in the rain for four hours, no being pulled off of a bus on the way to vote…all good.

  5. Phoenix Programmer*

    It’s tough when your experience is that the “highly unlikely to take it badly” coworkers have taken it badly. It goes back to the tone podcast earlier this week. Some of us just get bad reactions from even mundane requests so have stopped trying.

    1. GhostWriter*


      Years ago, a coworker I didn’t know well randomly asked me which presidential candidate I was voting for. Not thinking much of it, I told them, asked them who they were voting for, and went back to my work. They then badgered me every day until the election, trying to convince me to “switch sides,” even though I kept telling them to stop and that there was nothing they could say to change my mind.

      I refuse to talk about politics at work now. Can’t always tell who will be obnoxious, so it’s easier to just avoid it.

  6. Close Bracket*

    “how people shy away from even minor conversations that are highly unlikely to end badly. ”

    Along these lines, Brene Brown talks about vulnerability at work. On a recent 1A segment, she talked about how this can mean going into any situation where you don’t know the outcome, including difficult conversations at work. Here is a link to that episode:

    She’s been on 1A before and has a TED talk, if anyone wants to hear more.

  7. formergradstudent*

    I really appreciate the marketplace piece. I generally avoid politics at work, and so do most of my co-workers. This usually seems for the best and allows me to have strong work relationships with people who have political views quite different from mine. Lately, however, –as election season heats up– I’ve been questioning whether I’m betraying my values by keeping quiet at work. I do have very strong opinions, but I don’t share them. The piece confirmed that I’m just being work-appropriate, not politically spineless. Thanks Allison.

  8. Beatings Will Continue Until Morale Improves*

    I’ve been struggling at my new job with the politics issue. The owner and all the employees are firmly against the political party I stand with and routinely say very insulting things (just plain insults). I’ve handled it by not saying a thing when they talk politics and just look at the blankly when they start in on me. We’ll see how this continues since I’m in no position to shut it down.

  9. Alice*

    I refrain from discussing politics at work for practical reasons, but at the same time I wonder where we got this idea that silence is neutral. It’s not – it’s accepting existing power structures and imbalances.

  10. Sally*

    Just wanted to say: I’m so glad I now have unlimited data, so I can listen to Alison’s recorded shows and interviews on my phone in the car!

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