banning political talk at work isn’t the answer … but read the room

Every election year, my mail at Ask a Manager fills up with letters from people who are fed up with political talk at work. Often it’s not even about agreeing or disagreeing—people just want a space where they can focus on work without having to hearing political rants, even when they’re on the same side of the aisle as the ranter.

I’ve long given the same advice on the topic: People should avoid discussing politics at work, period. But if you’re going to do it, watch carefully for cues that your coworkers aren’t interested and be willing to move on. Don’t assume the person you’re talking with shares your beliefs. Be aware that something that seems theoretical to you might have real-life ramifications for them. And realize that people at work are a captive audience, and they may worry about sharing what they truly think because they need to preserve good professional relationships, especially if there’s a power dynamic in play.

But at Slate today, I wrote about why that advice has felt harder to give this year, and why it might not be workable at all. You can read it here.

{ 209 comments… read them below }

  1. ItsAllFunAndGamesUntil*

    Alas one of the great creators of much office strife is those who for the life of them can’t read the room, they don’t mean any ill intent persay, they are just horrid, at best, at reading people and can’t take visual cues at all.

    1. lemon*

      Part of the problem for remote teams is that it’s a lot harder to read the room on Zoom, unfortunately.

    2. pleaset cheap rolls*

      There are many people who are more than just horrid at reading the room – they are ignorant (sometimes willfully so) of the challenges many historically marginalized people face.

      For example, on the race side, people of all sorts are clueless about the near-constant stresss many black and brown people are under. Many men are clueless about being female. Etc.

    3. Nanani*

      And a lot of them actively refuse to read the room, because the power dynamic (whether the work one, like being higher in the corporate ladder, or the social/privilege one) is in their favour and they have never really HAD to.

      1. it's me*

        I worked with someone who made a point of playing [divisive, partisoan radio show] loudly at his desk and having various polarizing stickers as a power play because he knew no one would say boo to him about it.

    4. dackquiri*

      I have one such coworker, and it has resulted in a few tense moments in meetings. She’s the type who has a firm grip on local news but national politics is something she just doesn’t ingest a lot of. As such, she’d bring up various things POTUS did that she thinks are ridiculous to get a laugh at no matter what side you’re on, and we’d have a good chuckle together (like the 80’s and 90’s).

      She didn’t realize that what was “funny because presidents never say stuff like that” to her was “unprecedented because the norms are eroding” to most of the other members of our team (which skews WoC and 1st & 2nd generation immigrants). No one but her was interested in seeing the humor in it. I forget what the president’s behavior was, but I remember it was tied to a mighty disconcerting policy that was hard to laugh in the face of.

      To speak nothing of the fear of “what if this brings about the kind of argument where someone says something that can’t be unheard?” Relieved it didn’t come to it, (and my expectation of political arguments being on the cusp of a dog-whistle at all times might be artificially inflated by my time spent online), but the number of opinions in the Overton Window right now that I would have a *very* time working with someone who held them is distressingly high.

  2. Jennifer*

    “And just as many people are burned out, distracted, or otherwise negatively affected by politics in their work environment, there are others for whom keeping politics out of work is distracting, painful, and a reminder that they and their communities aren’t fully welcomed or supported by American professional culture.”

    That part. When any talk of racism or police brutality is dismissed as “politics” that sends a clear message. It’s not just politics for many people.

    I get that coworkers may not want to talk about it, but if it’s relevant to work somehow, like in the example Alison mentioned, you need to get over it.

    1. The Original K.*

      I read a tweet from a Black woman whose boss asked the team how they were doing in the wake of the George Floyd murder and when she started to answer, a white woman on the team interrupted her with “Can we not?!”

    2. lemon*

      I totally get where you’re coming from on this, but the other side of this is that, as a person of color, I don’t really want to be talking about police brutality and racism at work because I get tired of being made responsible for other folks’ defensiveness on these topics. And I’m always worried that if I push back too hard on people, it’ll have real professional consequences. So, I hate being in that situation where I’m wondering, “do I bite my tongue about this problematic thing that this person is saying, or do I say something and risk ruining my professional reputation?”

      Like Alison said, there’s no easy answers.

      1. Something Something Whomp Whomp*

        Louder for everyone in the back! I keep my mouth shut on this stuff because (and this is outside of work too) even the slightest mention of a race-related issue can really trigger people to assume that you make everything about race. I can’t “make everything about race” and keep my job, or my friends, or my partner, or be seen as a nice person, so I’d rather be intensely apolitical.

        That annoys other POC, but I honestly couldn’t care less at this point. I cannot trust anyone to interpret my personal politics with any degree of nuance, so I’d be a fool to give them any bait to turn me into an Angry Black Woman, because they’ll do it even unconsciously. And that’s the problem – even allies who want to be good about this stuff may struggle to work against their cultural programming, and good luck depending on people who are working through their own struggles with cognitive dissonance.

        It’s not great because it leaves me pretty resentful of the POC who do speak up about this stuff in their lives, as though they’re entitled to social and professional protections I’ve nseldom been able to realize, but there you go.

        1. Jennifer*

          I get that. I have kept quiet before. My comment was more for white people who ask black people not to discuss racism and police brutality because it makes THEM uncomfortable.

          1. JSPA*

            Hm, I once shared something with someone I say to clearly be African American, in what I intended to be an, “I get what this is about and hear and see you” way…

            only to get a little card placed on my computer afterwards about, “you like many others don’t know that I’m black, and that talking about black people to me as if we were both white is racist and insulting.”

            This proved very efficiently that people’s awareness of a) other people’s race b) perceptions of their own race c) people’s intentions and d) people’s reception are all thoroughly undependable.

            She assumed she passed as cis-het-white-mainstream. I assumed I…didn’t.

            We were both wrong.

            I shared something cultural I considered an in-group sort of thing, assuming it was universal enough she’d feel the same. I was (at least in the above context) wrong. She assumed it had been a passive aggressive, intentionally belittling racial dig, a propos of nothing. Again, wrong.

            The issue in question? A wry comment that divergent attitudes towards hair relaxer within the community can get intense.

            All to say: the identity lines are not always as clear as one might guess. People start things up or shut them down for all kinds of reasons.

            White and black people can be siblings, spouses, parents and children.

            You don’t know if someone who’s shutting things down is doing so because their S.O. is a cop, or because they just lost their own sister to police violence, and can’t keep it together at work if the topic is discussed.

      2. Jennifer*

        Well, sometimes the term POC can be problematic bc the minority experience can be very different depending on your background.

        That said, I get that not everyone wants to talk about it all the time and why some black people may feel uncomfortable speaking up about it. I have held back at times for fear or my job too. My point is this needs to change. My comment was more directed to my white counterparts.

        1. soon to be former fed really*

          I hate the term POC. I has someone whitesplain to me once that POC includes Asian women. I responded that as a black woman born and raised in the USA, my life experiences are nothing like those of an Asian woman, born here or not. POC is not a useful expression at all.

          1. Something Something Whomp Whomp*

            I don’t think it is either, but as a black woman who’ll risk getting told I’m being dIviSiVe omg!!11! if I actually name races, I went with POC because I’d rather not trip a fragility wire.

      3. Stephanie*

        My department had small group diversity listening sessions that were opt-in…and I just couldn’t (I’m black, if it’s not obvious from the Gravatar). We usually have a section in our performance reviews for “people development”, but I just was too tired to have to explain systemic racism in a way that didn’t risk my professional reputation. Like a lot of engineering departments, we don’t have very diverse leadership, so I knew there’d be some awkward moment where I might have to point out something problematic to someone I report to.

        1. Ellie*

          I have a similar issue where I am, but with gender. My company has invested a lot of money into having diverse teams, promoting women into engineering, etc. with almost no success. As one of the very few women here I prefer to stay out of it. They’re not looking for real feedback, they just want me to approve of what they’re doing. Any suggestions or feedback that isn’t 100% positive get shot down and/or ignored. I’m tired of explaining again and again that it’s not actually normal for the engineering leads to be >95% white men, and I’m really tired of being treated like I’m speaking for all women, everywhere, every time I open my mouth. Its exhausting.

          1. Stephanie*

            Yeah, I’ve faced similar issues with people wanting a rubber stamp for the status quo. I’ve helped out with intern recruiting and the company says they want diverse candidates…but then pushes back when I suggest candidates from schools we don’t usually hire from or “suggest” I interview someone’s niece. I find too many want to do big picture discussions but don’t want to actually confront and address biases or implement actual policies. And because of that…I just had to opt out.

      4. Middle Aged Lady*

        You expressed this perfectly and I would add, I also don’t want to be a de facto diversity trainer on every topic where my ‘differences’ are apparent. And sometimes I want to get through the day feeling normal and have some breathing space from
        Thinking about it. It’s easy for some people to have a five minute conversation about issues and walk away. It will haunt me all day sometimes. And I have to work with these people. I don’t want to know what some of them think.

        1. BlackBelt Jones*

          “…And I have to work with these people. I don’t want to know what some of them think.”


          1. Stephanie*

            Yeah, I remember walking into work and hearing something….not great from a coworker and it has totally colored how I interact with him. We still work together fine, but it was like “What does he really think about me or people who look like me?”

    3. Crabby Patty*

      Keep in mind, many of us are relatives of cops, and those cops get lumped into a generalization of all cops, even as they’re out there taking a bullet so the rest of us don’t have to.

      Do we see all teachers as having sex with their minor students for the handful who do? I sure hope not. Police shouldn’t be any different.

      And that’s likely one reason why people don’t want to discuss police brutality. Yes, there are problems, and they need to be fixed, but generalizing all cops isn’t helpful, so no, there’s nothing to “get over.”

      1. Jennifer*

        The comparison to teachers doesn’t make sense. Most people don’t know a teacher that has had sex with a student. Nearly every black or brown person has experienced racism and has had a negative experience with the police. It’s not just about the ones who were killed either. It’s more than just a few bad apples.

        1. ShanShan*

          Also, the whole point of that saying is that “one bad apple spoils the whole barrel.”

          That’s the whole idea: that just a few bad people, if they’re tolerated and protected by the system, poison the whole system.

          See, the thing about teachers who have sex with their students is that they are always fired, and quite often jailed.

          That’s why most people still trust teachers but have stopped trusting police officers.

          We trust teachers because we trust the systems that punish and remove the bad ones. We do not trust police officers because for the most part, there are no such systems, at least not functional ones.

          None of this is individual police officers’ fault, but if the rotten apples aren’t being removed, all of the apples in the barrel are tainted, because we have no way of telling which are which.

          1. Jennifer*

            Exactly! Even some of the so-called “good” cops are responsible for standing on the sidelines and not speaking out about the brutality and corruption. And yes even the evil ones sometimes get off with just a slap on the wrist.

            Do I understand the need for police? Of course! But the whole system needs to be re-vamped.

            1. ShanShan*

              I completely believe that a lot of officers quietly don’t support this system and try their best to be fair. I really do.

              But the thing is, if the bad officers aren’t being reliably removed from the force, we have no way to tell which kind of officer we are encountering during any given interaction. They might be one of the good ones, or one of the bad ones, but WE DON’T KNOW, and when people’s lives are at stake, they can’t afford to offer the benefit of the doubt.

              The way to solve this is to get rid of the “bad apples:” to fire them and punish them, and to do it routinely, all the time, as routinely as teachers who have sex with their students are fired and punished.

              If police departments did that, most of these trust issues would be severely reduced.

              1. Gazebo Slayer*

                Yes. It’s rather like the “Schrodinger’s rapist” principle. A Black person stopped by the police doesn’t have any way of knowing whether the cop in question is racist/paranoid/violent, even if the cop isn’t and knows they’re not, because the Black person can’t see into the cop’s head. And considering the awful stories we’ve all seen in the news, I can’t blame them for assuming the worst.

          2. Diahann Carroll*

            None of this is individual police officers’ fault, but if the rotten apples aren’t being removed, all of the apples in the barrel are tainted, because we have no way of telling which are which.

            And also, silence is complicity. If a so called “good cop” stands around and sees her coworker doing something racist/illegal and doesn’t say or do anything about it, she might as well have done it herself. You’re not good when you’re enabling, covering up, or uplifting evil, period.

          3. Crabby Patty*

            >We do not trust police officers because for the most part, there are no such systems, at least not functional ones.

            Really? Because I see headlines all the time when cops are fired.

            But maybe you’re right that the comparison to teachers isn’t a good one. After all, cops put their lives on the line every time they show up for work. Teachers typically don’t.

        2. Quill*

          Also, like… sure, not all cops are murderers, not all teachers are sex offenders, but in neither case are we doing enough to keep smaller abuses from happening. Plenty of students experience disproportionate discipline from teachers and school administrators, and demographically it breaks down very similarly to people who are harassed, wrongfully arrested, or assaulted by police: primarily people of color, the disabled and neurodivergent, and queer people. Both systems (policing, and schooling) are set up to place a huge emphasis on authority and existing societal biases only make the inherent potential for abuse more prevalent.

          We have a lot of abusive systems in place in society and tbqh it’s going to be a long walk to dismantle or repair them all.

          1. ShanShan*

            Seriously. Nobody wants to kill them. We just want more things (such as getting people off drugs and dealing with mentally ill people in crisis) to be someone else’s job, and for them not to be able to shoot people over minor crimes.

            1. ShanShan*

              I’ll add that none of this stuff should have been their job in the first place! Dealing with homeless people or harmless drug addicts or harmless people struggling with mental illness isn’t law enforcement! We just pushed all of these jobs onto the police because they’re usually the only city department that has any funding. That’s not any fairer to the police than it is to anyone else!

        1. some dude*

          I work in lefty circles and am around a lot of BLM protests and people involved in that movement in the SF Bay Area, which has fairly radical politics. Nobody in that movement is talking about killing police. The people that killed police in the bay area were right wing members of the Boogaloo movement. The people writing ACAB on stuff are (anecdotally) not part of BLM and, in general, not people of color. I’m not saying nobody involved with BLM has expressed hatred for police,
          but the movement in general is about taking police brutality seriously and shifting resources from policing to supporting communities. This conservative talking point that BLM wants to kill police is not accurate.

      2. Person from the Resume*

        Unfortunately you saying “Not All Cops” really ignores the history of policing as a way to maintain white supremacy. The current system cannot be fixed to be antiracist because it is an inherently racist system. Those “good” cops you talk about are still choosing to be part of a white supremacist system. That’s the truth, but the truth is really political because Americans/white people have been taught that police are the good guys and when people confronted with the truth that goes against everything they’ve been taught usually react badly.

        It’s extremely political and best not to have this conversation at work, but just realize that your truth that “most cops are good and heroic and heroes” is not the truth for POC in America.

          1. Oh No She Di'int*

            I think that Person from the Resume has really gone out of their way to draw a distinction between cops and the system they are embedded in. Systems include practices, laws, policies, expectations, and other mechanisms for molding behavior that go beyond this or that particular individual. The individuals, however, are embedded in the system. If gallons of raw sewage are spraying into a family’s home, it wouldn’t matter how wonderful, how good-willed, how beautiful those individual people are, they would still smell like shit.

        1. Diahann Carroll*

          The current system cannot be fixed to be antiracist because it is an inherently racist system.

          Preach. Let’s not forget that in the south in the 1700s, patrol groups (the forefathers of today’s police force) were expressly created to catch runaway slaves. And in the north in the 1800s, they were created to control immigrants who were moving into the cities. Many police agencies have not moved beyond those end goals, thus the problems we see today.

      3. PollyQ*

        Annnd here’s a perfect example of the perils of political issues. I have a number of reasons why I believe this is an inapt comparison, but Alison’s asked us not to discuss politics, so I’m leaving it at that.

      4. hbc*

        I’m curious if you think “Not All Men” is a valid response to women sharing stories of harassment and sexual assault, or if women should never share those stories of being harassed by men since we all know and love some very good men.

        1. Funk*

          Depends how the stories are being shared. I’m sorry but I really dislike it if someone starts talking about “men this” “women that”. If the person is sharing trauma I won’t always bring it up if I am in supportive mode but I do tend to disagree with unqualified gendered statements

          1. Funk*

            example 1 “This person did this thing to me” –> “not all men!” is a crappy response that makes no sense. No one was talking about all men. So to jump to that implies overdefensiveness and issues to work on.
            example 2 “all people of this gender are doing this thing to me” or “everytime this thing happens to me it is [a gender] doing it”–> “not all [gender]!” makes a bit more sense? Trying to reassure not all people of the gender do the thing? That people of [gender] don’t support the thing?

          2. Jackalope*

            The problem with that (and you prob know this, but…) is that every time someone says something that’s related to gender and entrenched sexism there’s the “not all men” which is… good, but doesn’t address the fact that it’s gendered, or that a)women are the primary victims, and b) men are the primary perpetrators. And if for example the vast majority of sexual assaults are men on women, then that doesn’t mean that all men commit sexual assault or that only men are perpetrators and only women are victims, but it’s still a gender issue. Trying to point out that not all men assault women tends to be a red herring distracting from the fact that it is still an issue with men because men are so overwhelmingly the perpetrators.

      5. LDF*

        Do teachers’ unions regularly support the rights of teachers to flirt with their students and go on strike when a teacher is investigated for an inappropriate relationship with their students? If not, maybe that’s why.

        1. Smithy*

          This is a good example. I would also say that when there have been institutional abuses being made by a set of teachers and a structure of protect abusers – most specifically the Catholic Church and parochial schools – this did become a much larger conversation about how trust could exist with parochial education.

        2. MCMonkeyBean*

          This is an excellent and succinct way to break down why that comparison was ridiculous. thank you!

      6. Joielle*

        Here’s the thing though – there are NICE cops, but there are no GOOD cops, because the institution of policing is so messed up. Modern police forces are directly descended from runaway slave patrols. It’s literally impossible to be a good cop, because our criminal justice system is bad. This is a VERY simplified explanation but if you want to read more about this, look up the author Alex Vitale – the first chapter of his book The End of Policing was life-changing for me.

        Nobody’s saying all cops kick their dogs and yell at their spouses – many, in fact, are very nice to their families and friends, and do their best to do good work, and try not to be racist. It’s just… impossible to do good work as a cop, because the laws themselves are racist. If you take that as a personal attack, you’re obscuring the real problems and missing the point.

        1. JO*

          I don’t see how this is different than ACAB. She just literally said there are “No GOOD cops” this mindset is prevalent within these “equality movements” Heck, I don’t even have to post links to prove my point. But still I am sure that people will continue to be like “no one ever said that” or some other no true Scotsman.

          1. Jennifer*

            She is saying that the entire institution is inherently flawed. That doesn’t mean that every officer is an evil racist. It just means that even the decent ones have difficulty creating change because they are working within a terrible system.

          2. ShanShan*

            She didn’t mean that there are no cops who are good people. She meant that it is impossible to do the JOB of a cop, the way that that job is currently set up and understood and managed, and do a net amount of good in the world, no matter how much you want to.

            That “no matter how much you want to” is really the key part. I believe that there are a lot of good people who are police officers. But most of the things police officers are asked and encouraged to do as part of their jobs are not good things. So they can do the job to the satisfaction of their bosses, or do good things, but it’s incredibly difficult, and maybe impossible to do both.

            That doesn’t make them bad people. It makes their job, in its current incarnation, one that good people don’t succeed at.

            1. ShanShan*

              And that’s what we want to change! We don’t want police officers to disappear or to get hurt. We want to give them a job that they can be proud to do, a job that helps make society better and safer, a job that will make them trusted instead of mistrusted. If they’re good people who became cops because they wanted to make the world a better place, then what we’re proposing will be their dream job!

              It’s just that that isn’t the job they have now. So we need to get rid of the job they have now, redesign it, change the way we think about it, and then give them a new job instead.

        2. Crabby Patty*

          >laws themselves are racist.

          Seriously? Laws against drunk driving are “racist”?

          Good grief.

          I won’t even bother with “there are no GOOD cops,” but I’ll remember it the next time I hear about cops saving the lives of infants and buying single mothers car seats instead of ticketing them for speeding.

      7. Chinook*

        I am with you, Crabby Patty. DH is a cop and I know he has some colleagues that he doesn’t trust, but he has zero ability to speak up about them in his toxic work environment. Yet, I am more worried for his safety this year than I have in the past because he is not only regularly exposed to random strangers on the side of a very busy highway, but the random hatred of cops in general grows and has become more violent even in Alberta (ironically the more aggressive actions are coming from white folks). I have heard stories that would make law abiding folks turn green around the gills and know that it is as much dumb luck as his professionalism and skill that he comes home every night.

        While, I understand completely where the Black Lives Matter crew are coming from and agree 100% that the cops should not be doing 75% of the stuff they end up doing (like welfare checks) I also think I have a right to a work place where people don’t openly talk about wanting harm to come to people like my spouse. I end up just leaving the conversation if I can, not just to avoid awkwardness, but also because I understand that the anger shown towards police can also be turned towards their families and turn from hypothetical circumstances to real ones.

        1. Jennifer*

          To be clear- I don’t want harm to come to your husband. I want my husband to come home safely everyday the same as you do. It’s not about hatred, it’s about wanting reform. I don’t agree with unprovoked violence.

      8. oranges & lemons*

        The issue is that this is a systemic problem, not just a one-on-one problem. The problem of police brutality isn’t just that some cops are mean people, it’s that racial oppression is baked into the same laws and social systems that the police enforce. Police brutality isn’t a bug, it’s a feature. Until those deeper issues are addressed, the policing and justice system as a whole will continue to be dangerous, regardless of the personal values of individual cops. Their own personal goodwill should not be the only thing that stops them from committing reckless violence against citizens.

      9. Hamish*


        Crabby Patty, my dad was a cop turned national expert on police accountability and police reform. He was my hero. Notable enough that my partner, a Black activist, knew who my dad was before he knew who I was. He died pretty young, about 15 years ago, while working to overhaul the entire training program for the very large police department he came from – the NYPD. His death was a real shame not just for me but for America. We really needed years and years more of his work. I’ve spent some time over the last few months watching records of his testimony during the numerous congressional hearings he was involved in after incidences state violence, and I’m struck by how disturbingly prescient a lot of the conversation happening in them was. Early 90s, could’ve been recorded today.

        So yeah, it’s been hard for me in the past to hear my friends saying ACAB and stuff. My dad was a cop and absolutely my role model. He was extremely aware of and disturbed by the institutional racism in policing and did everything he possibly could to curb it. But, okay? It’s still a racist and dangerous institution. People who are in it are at the very least taking part in that. Including my dad, who I’m sure I’d be having some hard conversations with if he were still around, even as fantastic as I think he was. And people who are scared of the police are completely right to be scared. Saying that they should hedge their talk with “not all cops” because I love my Dad is pretty ridiculous, you know? When I was 20 I was worried about people being mean about my Dad, and when my partner was 20 he was worried about getting the crap kicked out of him because he drove through a white neighborhood. No comparison. You and I need to swallow our irritation and listen.

    4. Public Sector Manager*

      I see racism and police brutality as issues that are not political in and of themselves, but have become politicized. If a member of my team felt the need to discuss either one, I wouldn’t consider either issue “discussing politics at work.”

      Now, if someone wants to discuss which presidential candidate they are voting for, which political party they align with, which public dog catcher they are going to vote for, then by all means, keep those issues inside your head.

      1. Jennifer*

        Agreed. It’s an issue that affects people’s daily lives. It’s not political. For example, I see a lot of suggestions here for letter writers to call the police about matters that aren’t criminal or sometimes aren’t even that big of a deal. If that happened in the workplace, some employees may mention that of course the police should be called if an actual crime has been committed, but calling the police in unnecessarily can really make some people in the office feel unsafe.

      2. Jennifer*

        Agreed. It’s not political. For example, I see a lot of suggestions here for letter writers to call the police about matters that aren’t criminal or sometimes aren’t even that big of a deal. If that happened in the workplace, some employees may mention that of course the police should be called if an actual crime has been committed, but calling the police in unnecessarily can really make some people in the office feel unsafe.

  3. Dave*

    The timing of this is amazing as someone who is stressed about the pending Senate vote today. I work with a group of people that are at best marginally aware the vote is happening and would consider my feelings of what is likely to come to be an overreaction. After all despite the pandemic and case counts going up, we need to get on with our lives and get back to normal. I still find it amazing that a public health crisis is a political debate point. The politics should be how much help and how we help people not that this is all going to go away on November 4th.

      1. Diahann Carroll*

        Yup, which is why I’m glad I work from home and with people who generally don’t talk about politics at all. I, too, would need to take a weeks long vacation otherwise.

      2. Dave*

        Oh I agree but the number of people who have told me COVID will be over after the election because this is all a political ploy is amazing. A worldwide health crisis is going to end because the US has an election. I know those of in the US can have some overinflated egos but this bring it to a new level for me.

        1. PlainJane*

          I agree on substance, but to be fair (for some reason), the argument isn’t that the pandemic is going to disappear because of the election, it’s that the media is overhyping the pandemic and playing on “doctored” numbers (“Oh, yeah, the guy who jumped out of the plane had Covid, so that’s what he died of”) in order to swing the election, and after the election, they’ll admit that it’s really just a bad cold and start talking about how great everything is. (That the first vaccines may well get approval in the early part of the year will be taken as proof that “See? They get what they want in the election, and suddenly, boom, there’s a vaccine, how convenient.”) It’s ridiculous thinking, but not necessarily magical ridiculous thinking.

          1. Tired of Covid-and People*

            No, it’s just ignorant, uninformed, and heartless thinking. I never realized how stupid so many of my fellow Americans are.

            If anything, I think the Covid death numbers are understated. Because of woefully inadequate testing and treatment, we have no idea how many are really infected or have perhaps recovered without medical assistance. We know little to nothing. I’m ashamed to be an American right now.

            1. PlainJane*

              Like I said, I agree on the general substance, and obviously, I think they’re wrong.

              But going to, “Oh, the rest of my country is stupid and heartless” doesn’t help, doesn’t change anyone’s mind, and doesn’t make it easy for them to change their positions. It’s just going to make them dig in harder.

    1. pleaset cheap rolls*

      ” and would consider my feelings of what is likely to come to be an overreaction”


  4. Bookworm*

    I can relate to this. I’m in a workplace where this is what we live and breathe as it is our work, so political talk is inescapable. The pandemic (as alluded to) is making it harder, not just because of the politicization but because it took so many things away from us–movies delayed, Olympics moved, sports iffy, etc. Even a trip to the grocery store is no longer “routine.”

    I asked for the day after Election Day off, because I absolutely do not want to deal with my co-workers in their emotions the day after. Good luck to all of you who can’t escape it.

    1. PlainJane*

      This. So very much, this.

      With our usual distractions taken away (“Did you see [new blockbuster]?” etc), politics becomes the only thing people are talking or thinking about, so clamping down becomes essentially silencing anything current.

      On the other hand, it also makes everything into a tinderbox, and even if you agree, if you don’t agree to the same extent (eg, “Trump should be defeated” vs “If Trump is not defeated, the world will end tomorrow”), it can be an emotional fight, which is exhausting. Reading the room can be difficult, even if everyone is leaning in roughly the same direction. It’s easy to start a brushfire just by disagreeing on minor details and nuances.

  5. 2020storm*

    that last note about people taking off after election day—are we going to know on election day? I assumed it would take a few weeks. It’s going to be awful!

    1. Doug Judy*

      I thought about taking off as I’m the sole progressive members of my team in a red city in a swing state, but I also had the thought that we may not know on the 4th. I decided not to take off as I don’t think taking off will make a difference, even if we do know they outcome. Plus it would be totally obvious why I’m taking the day off, I think that would invite some snowflake accusations or whatever. I’ll power through. Thankfully we are all still WFH so it should only be our daily huddle where it could potentially be discussed. Hopefully my manager who’s not one to discuss it at all will squash it if it comes up.

    2. LGC*

      We might – but it probably depends on the Sun Belt states.

      Different states have vastly different rules. Florida can already start processing absentee ballots, as can Arizona. (Plus, I think most voting in Arizona was already through mail.) Texas, in contrast, has not changed its election laws at all and requires a non-COVID excuse for absentee ballots, so they’re one of the few states that are normally running.

      In the upper Midwest, a lot of those states are expected to have slower counts. For example, Pennsylvania can’t start counting ballots until Election Day. Plus, some of those states are also accepting ballots received after Election Day (or were trying to – I believe that was overturned in Wisconsin at least?).

      1. Frank Doyle*

        Yeah, I expect PA will take a few days to be able to declare a winner, and PA may be end up being pretty important. (I wouldn’t really call us “midwest” though.)

        1. Diahann Carroll*

          Not at all – Pennsylvania is solidly east coast (PA native here currently living in the actual midwest).

        2. Grizabella the Glamour Cat*

          “(I wouldn’t really call us “midwest” though.)”

          Thank you for saying this! As a midwesterner (Illinois), it drives me crazy to hear Pennsylvania referred to as part of the midwest. Aside from the fact that anyone capable of reading a map can clearly see it’s on the east coast, Pennsylvania was one of the original 13 colonies, for Pete’s sake!

          It’s happening more and more on the news and in political commentary, and what really gets me is that the people doing it often seem to to be very highly educated. Wtaf?

          Sorry for the rant, but this is a frustration that’s been building up for me. Thanks for listening.

          1. Grizabella the Glamour Cat*

            “Aside from the fact that anyone capable of reading a map can clearly see it’s on the east coast, Pennsylvania was one of the original 13 colonies, for Pete’s sake!”

            The point I was trying to make here is that Pennsylvania, as one of the original 13 colonies, literally helped CREATE this republic and was therefore part of it long before any of the “midwestern” states were even admitted to the union. Calling it a midwestern state is an insult to Pennsylvania (never mind that it looks weird to us actual midwesterners, lol).

      2. many bells down*

        I know here in WA, where we’re all vote by mail and ballots went out mid-October, mine is already marked as counted. The states that are used to mail voting might have a pretty good count by election night. This year we’ve already doubled the number of ballots returned 2 weeks before the election that we had in 2016.

      3. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

        Yep! In AZ historically (2000ish-2018) 78% of voting was by mail or in-person early voting and they can be counted ahead of the election. On election day, voters feed their ballots through a tabulator, so technically results for all except the misread ballots are available ans soon as the county recorders pull the data off the SD cards. I know my ballot was received and counted last week.

      4. Person from the Resume*

        Plus, some of those states are also accepting ballots received after Election Day (or were trying to – I believe that was overturned in Wisconsin at least?).

        These attempts to try to change the election law at the last minute makes me irate. Because I am a veteran and voted absentee in Louisiana my entire military career. During my time the law was always that the state accept military absentee ballots as long they were post marked election day. Why I don’t know? They probably never considered it could actually have an impact on the outcome (and it won’t this year because Louisiana is still too red for the small percentage of military voters to matter), but the call to change the voting law last minute after ballots have printed with instructions are calls to disenfranchise military absentee voters and that offends me no end.

        I think it would be much better to require the ballot the reach the election office by the end of election day, but you can’t change the law at the last minute because it’s inconvenient for you.

        1. Evan Þ.*

          On the other hand, I think it’s really unfair to punish the voter for (reasonable) post office delays. If I dump my ballot in the mailbox a couple days before Election Day, I’ve done what I can and it’s reasonable to ensure my ballot should be counted. (In practice, I’ll probably use a ballot drop box instead, but they aren’t convenient for everyone.)

          Perhaps a state can try to split the difference by saying “Anything postmarked by Saturday-before-Election-Day gets counted (as long as it’s received by $ReasonableDelay), as well as everything received by Election Day”, which would allow results much faster?

          But in the final reckoning, I agree laws shouldn’t be changed at the last minute.

    3. Dave*

      My understanding is we may not know on election night because some states like PA can count absentee ballots until election day and some states just require ballots to be post marked by election day and received by Friday or whatever set deadline. So in theory if there is a sweep where some states don’t matter it is possible to know but it is not necessarily likely.

      1. Crabby Patty*

        I won’t watch – just can’t do it – and plan to pick through my fingers at the headlines the next day. I’m allowing myself such cowardice because I am beyond fearful of the vengeance that awaits us if things go a certain way, either for the next few months or the next four years.

    4. Detective Amy Santiago*

      I took off so I can stay up late and see what returns are reported. Plus we may get some answers on Senate/House/Gov races. I know we may not have a lot of solid answers, but I feel like we’ll at least have a sense of which way the wind is blowing.

      1. Anax*

        Even that’s worth taking with a grain of salt though, this year. Because COVID-19 has been so politicized, I’ve been hearing that in-person voting may lean red this year, and in states where mail-in ballots can’t be counted until after voting closes, that means that in-person votes will be overrepresented in early reporting. I’m not sure how pronounced that will be, but I’m expecting election night craziness.

    5. Person from the Resume*

      We’re probably not going to know the results. I heard a podcast reference the “election quarter” i.e. 3 months!

      But I expect some individuals emotions will be overwhelmed the day after because we will know some things about our fellow Americans and politicians.

    6. Quill*

      Realistically? No, but that won’t stop the news, speculation, and people declaring that it’s over.

      From a student of history perspective, what we will know on election day is if the election is legitimate or not: if there is a “results are in, stop counting” order or a “this can’t be the correct results, we’re throwing it out” order on election day we will know where we stand and personally, I would love to not have that realization in front of people.

    7. Nita*

      No, and that’s just as well. I know a lot of people on both sides who are on edge, and a few (again, on both sides) who seem to be losing their grip on reality. It’s just as well that we’re probably going to find out the results over a few weeks so people have time to adjust to whatever the end result is.

    8. Tired of Covid-and People*

      In my area, mail in ballots are accepted until Nov. 3, and they won’t start counting them until then. So there will definitely be a delay in getting certified results.

    9. Ballot Bee*

      I currently work for a board of elections in a state where the rule is “anything postmarked by Election Day gets counted.” We’re not going to know results here for at least a week after Election Day, and even that will require something like thirteen hour days for the entire team for the next month. Having all results by Election Day would require several miracles on the part of the voters, the postal service, and everyone working here -and even then, given that it’s also a same-day voter registration state, we genuinely *can’t* know if all votes are in -let alone what they are -until the polls are closed and the lines are cleared.

      With that being said, there are usually reasonable extrapolations for pretty much all the statewide and higher races once a large enough percentage of the probable total of votes are in.

    1. Picard*


      Yeah I’m intolerant of certain things. Kids in cages, environmental protections going POOF, threatening the marriages of my same sex friends, doing away with ACA, the list goes on.

    2. drpuma*

      Voting for the candidate who supports science and will address the pandemic appropriately is in fact a vote for the economy.

      Women across many, many different industries have become unable to work because of how poorly our current administration is handling the pandemic. For some folks that’s because women are disproportionally represented in vulnerable in-person industries; for others it’s because women disproportionately bear familial caregiving loads.

      Losing 50% of the labor force will not help the US economy recover, especially not with the role consumer spending plays in overall economic performance.

      It may not have a dollar sign in front of it, but it’s definitely still about the economy.

    3. LGC*

      …but it kind of does. It’s not always a zero sum thing – politicians can and do change their minds – but when you elect someone in a representative democracy (or…a republic, if you will), you’re voting for that person overall.

      You might be voting for one thing, but you’re also saying that one thing is more important than the other things that you might even disagree with them with. And I think that’s partly why people get so impassioned – you might vote for a candidate that promises lower taxes, but that comes at the expense of gun control. You might vote for a candidate that supports legalization of cannabis, but that might come at the cost of more government regulations. You might vote for a candidate that’s strongly against abortion, but he also might be strongly against further COVID-19 relief.

      (And I could go all day.)

      There are numerous tradeoffs when you vote, and while you might have only one priority, there’s a ton of cascading effects. And I think that’s unavoidable.

      1. Tired of Covid-and People*

        Politics is nothing but tradeoffs, the constant tension between different needs, wants, and visions.

      2. Can Man*

        And that is why I like ranked choice voting; it gives me the opportunity to vote for the candidate I think would take us in the best direction instead of making the tactical decision to merely vote for whichever of the two major candidates is least bad. A vote for a third party that checks more of my boxes is not a wasted vote with instant-runoff.

  6. Jessica will remember in November*

    I am relatively privileged (white, still have job, nobody very close to me has been hit with COVID), but my level of existential terror right now is still barely manageable. My go-to right now if my friends get ranty and it’s stressful is “What are you doing about it?” And that can be followed by suggestions. First, have you voted as early as possible, and if you already did, or can’t, are you talking to everyone else in your life and trying to get them to vote?* Second, even if you’re on lockdown at home, you can phonebank or textbank to GOTV. Third, if you have any disposable income at all, even $5 campaign donations make a difference.

    I know it has made me feel better in these final days to be channeling my terror and rage into action, however small, and it’s also more constructive.

    *I saw something the other day that has stuck with me. It was attributed to AOC, and I don’t know if that’s true since it reached me at thirdhand, but whoever said it, I thought it was powerful. The gist of it was that everybody has one person in their life that they can get to vote. There’s someone who might not vote if you don’t reach out to them, and won’t be moved by anyone or anything else, but your influence is the one thing that might get them to vote.

  7. It's anon!*

    We’ve got one of those employees who isn’t happy until he’s made everyone uncomfortable. Ugh.

    1. Conspiracy-Industrial Complex*

      Then make sure to keep him as unhappy as possible for as long as possible.

    2. Generic Name*

      I hope HR is dealing with them. Chances are they’re doing other things besides going on political rants that make people uncomfortable. Things like saying racist things or sexually harassing coworkers.

  8. Kyrielle*

    Things I am grateful for: before remote work (when we just don’t discuss politics at all), political discussion in our office was largely limited to complaints about all the mail, TV and radio ads, etc., getting really busy just before an election.

  9. Richard Hershberger*

    “Plus, what is and isn’t political can be in the eye of the beholder…”
    This. We see this all the time in sports. You can tell a lot about someone’s politics by what they think is or is not political. A typical example: An athlete kneeling or raising a fist? Grossly, unacceptably political. Jet fighters flying over the stadium and paratroopers landing in the outfield? “That’s patriotism, not politics!” Or so I have been told on more than one occasion.

    My specialty is 19th century baseball. African Americans developed a baseball structure in parallel with the white structure. You can tell a newspaper’s politics by how, or if, it reports on it. Is a game between two “colored” clubs reported respectfully, like a game between two white clubs? Or does the reporter think it a hilarious spectacle? Is a game reported at all? The first interracial game between prominent clubs was in 1869. The game was arranged by an white newspaper editor who was a loud advocate of civil rights for everyone. The act of playing it was political, and everyone knew it. So, it turns out, was the act of talking about it. The more conservative papers simply ignored it–even papers that routinely covered baseball, including the white club involved in that game.

    I use this example because it brings out the reality that talking about politics is not something you can opt out of. The papers that reported that game were making a political statement. The papers that did not report that game were also making a political statement.

    1. Crabby Patty*

      >My specialty is 19th century baseball.

      Wow – this sounds so interesting. Thanks for mentioning; I plan to look into this. Are there any books you recommend on the topic? Thank you!

          1. Richard Hershberger*

            Thank you. A straight chronology would have served a different and, to my mind, less interesting purpose. It would answer a question such as “When did they move the pitcher from 45 to 50 feet from home plate? I am more interested in asking why they made this move, and why then rather than some other time? For that, we need to place the move within the context of developments in pitching and how this affected the balance between offense and defense. This requires a more thematic approach, only loosely chronological.

    2. Oh No She Di'int*

      Talking about politics is not something you can opt out of.

      Very well and succinctly stated. Everything is political, not just the stuff that triggers you.

      (I mean “you” in the general sense, not specifically you, Richard Hershberger.)

    3. Canadian Yankee*

      My own personal example of how politics is in the eye of the beholder: I’m out to dinner with representatives from a customer who’s paying our company a lot of money for a custom project. It’s not a working dinner, so the conversation is mostly light topics, which includes people talking about their spouses, kids, etc. Now I have to decide whether I’m going to mention my own spouse and if so, does this count as joining in on the chatter or, since I’m a man mentioning “my husband”, have I suddenly raised the forbidden “political topic” of same-sex marriage?

      Straight people are really oblivious to how freely and frequently they “out themselves” as straight to casual acquaintances, whereas if you showed my anyone I’ve interacted with in a professional setting over the past two decades, I would know with 98% confidence whether I had spoken openly about my sexual orientation in their presence because it’s *always* a considered and deliberate choice.

  10. nonegiven*

    My sister’s doctor has limited her to one hour of tv news per day, because it was raising her blood pressure. I quit watching altogether, many years ago, on my own account for the same reason.

    1. That Girl from Quinn's House*

      This is frankly why those “some things that seem political are too important to be labeled politics!” arguments are not great ones. Yes they are important! Yes they deeply and personally affect people’s lives! But they are upsetting, and stressful, and people are entitled to set aside some parts of their life where they are not dealing with traumatic and upsetting issues 24/7.

      1. Oh No She Di'int*

        People are entitled to set aside some parts of their life where they are not dealing with traumatic and upsetting issues 24/7.

        Well… here’s the problem with that: some of us simply by virtue of the type of human we are have those traumatic and upsetting issues literally on our skin 24/7, even–maybe especially–at work. I’m really curious about this group of people who are “entitled” (your word) to get away from that sort of trauma.

        1. Jackalope*

          A few weeks ago someone had a great comment (no longer remember which day or letter it was in response to, so I can’t link it) talking about how she sometimes couldn’t be involved in the conversations at work about things related to the minority group she was a member of because they touched her more personally. Others could discuss the issue and then move on but for her it could throw the rest of her day off if the discussion was too intense. For her it was important to have work be a place where she could focus on llama grooming and not the latest of many injustices that affected her directly. That’s how I took this comment, honestly. It’s important to talk about race, gender, disability, etc., and make sure they’re not ignored at work, because ignoring them is generally going to support the status quo and the people already in power. On the other hand, those can be upsetting and traumatic conversations, and people that are in the affected groups should be able to opt out if they don’t want to be a representative of their group and would rather discuss work issues instead. I saw your comment below about always wanting to contribute if you can on the chance that what you say will make a difference and I admire that a lot. I try to do that as well when I can. But sometimes I just can’t anymore, and I need work to be a space where I can get stuff done.

        2. Giant Squid*

          Do you have any idea how many genocides are going on right now around the world? Do you know how many critical human rights cases are moving through the courts, how many critical political issues are on the table? How many known innocent people are in prison?

          No one person can fix all of that. The most that most people can do is educate their friends, get organized, vote, donate.

          Right now, (if you’re in the US), our tax dollars go to concentration camps where tens of thousands of innocent people are being abused in horrible conditions. It’s not like anyone can drive down there and break them out. The best we can do is to get organized, educate friends, vote, donate. I haven’t even brought up the Wet’suwet’en people in Canada or the Uygurs in China. They’re all suffering 24/7.

          Organize, vote, donate, educate. Past that, there’s not much you can do. Nobody’s mental health is served by being given play-by-plays of the horrible atrocities happening around the world on a daily basis. You could make it your full-time job to just stay informed on genocides, and you wouldn’t succeed in doing more than making yourself miserable.

          The world is horrible. We have to make it better, but we also have to work and take care of our families. If you don’t feel comfortable sharing injustices that personally affect you with your friends, then they’re bad friends.

          But nobody is served by getting play-by-plays of every instance of police brutality around the country. Yes, people are entitled to not having every waking moment dedicated to feeling miserable about situations they have no immediate control over.

          Your traumatic and upsetting issues are on your skin 24/7, but are they the focus of your thoughts 24/7? I wish they weren’t on your thoughts, but don’t you sleep? Don’t you try to relax on occasion, watch TV or play games or share funny pictures with friends? That’s what people are talking about.

          1. kt*

            Without dismissing all the bad stuff you mentioned, this is kind of a jerky comment.

            Of course people try to relax and spend time with their families. But the point is that African-American people in the US have on average higher blood pressure than white Americans in part because of the stress of injustice. One can’t just stop being Black in America without leaving America.

            And, “If you don’t feel comfortable sharing injustices that personally affect you with your friends, then they’re bad friends.” Super-simplistic, and again, jerky! I may share an experience of sexual harassment with my husband, but often enough I don’t, because he just doesn’t get it and it takes so much emotional energy to even try to educate him about what it’s like. Easy for you to insult him on the internet, but this is life.

            Your exaggerated charge of “play-by-plays of every instance of police brutality around the country” totally misses the point; it’s a rhetorical device to dismiss Oh No She Di’int’s accurate remark.

            1. Giant Squid*

              Well, we’re both talking in general terms. Maybe it’s better to get specific.

              There are some people who complain about “political discussion” and what they really mean is, “I never want to hear about anything that I disagree with or that makes me feel bad”. There was another comment where someone talked about a bad coworker who said “Can we not?” as the team was talking about George Floyd and how particularly painful that was for people of color. People like that suck.

              They’re also the type to not see political discussion that’s already all around us. They’ll complain about athletes kneeling at a sports event but not about military flyovers. They’ll complain about movies being “political” for having minorities but not for portraying police positively. Again, those people suck, and I think most informed people agree.

              That is not the type of person (as far as I know) that Oh No She Di’int’ was talking to. The person originally made what should be an uncontroversial statement:

              ” People are entitled to set aside some parts of their life where they are not dealing with traumatic and upsetting issues 24/7.”

              There’s no telling what this means. Does it mean people who try to shut down all political discussion at work? It’s very reasonable for Oh No She Di’int to call those people out and point out that she can’t escape those issues at work. Does it mean asking friends not to bring up traumatic and upsetting politics at a pizza party? That’s completely reasonable, and it shouldn’t be controversial.

              My point on police brutality was that there are literally multiple well-documented instances of police brutality in the US every single day, if you know where to look. I used to follow them religiously, years ago. I used to email police departments and cities, until it destroyed my mental health. That’s not a rhetorical device, it’s a true statement that nobody can hear about that 24/7.

              “People are entitled to set aside some parts of their life where they are not dealing with traumatic and upsetting issues 24/7.” shouldn’t be controversial to anyone who is informed. Every politically informed person I know has had to take breaks from the news, and those breaks should be respected.

              I didn’t mean to insult your husband, and that sentence was poorly worded, I apologize. What I should have said (and meant) was if your husband or friends asked you to stop sharing personal trauma because it was just “killing their mood” or something like that, then those are bad friends.

              I mostly meant to clarify my position in response to Oh No She Di’int. Anyone who asks her to stop talking about the racism she experiences is terrible. If anyone asks to stop hearing about national or international “traumatic or upsetting” issues though, it’s counterproductive to ignore their request or try to shame them for it.

    2. Not A Girl Boss*

      I stopped watching/reading the news almost a full year ago. I know it’s “selfish” or “un-patriotic” but it has improved my quality of life so much.

      The issue is that now I’m doubly subject to “learning” about the news from… Everyone. They seem to think it is their duty / right to educate me on things I’ve repeatedly and explicitly told them I don’t want to know about.
      Them: isn’t *political thing* just the *ADJECTIVE*IEST?!?!?
      Me: non-committal shrug – no, remember? I chose to stop watching the news.
      Them: oh, well, then, let me share ALL ABOUT what I read on my Facebook wall this morning.

      At least when I did read the news, I sought out the most balanced and verified sources I could find. Now I just hear nonstop extreme telephone versions. It’s especially fun when I get accosted with incredibly different versions from friends/family on both sides of the isle.

    3. Detective Amy Santiago*

      The line between staying informed and maintaining sanity is a high wire act of epic proportions these days.

    4. Keymaster of Gozer*

      I can sympathise. Haven’t owned a TV since 2003 and recently I’ve stopped reading or listening to any news. Had a nervous breakdown earlier this year and no desire for another.

      (I only know there’s a USA election from this site.)

  11. Retro*

    It’s important to point out that probably your most likely chance of speaking to someone you disagree politically with is at work. As a relatively left leaning individual that worked in the deep south, I had the chance to have many of these opportunities to have candid political conversations with people on the opposite spectrum of me and humanize them. Your friends and family are more likely to be aligned with your views and you don’t want to live in an echo chamber never to be challenged.

    During the 2016 election, my coworker expressed to me that he wanted to vote for Trump because his son, who was a police officer, regularly patrolled known drug smuggling routes. As a result, he was put in danger very often so the issue of securing the border to secure the safety of his son was paramount to this coworker. I, in turn, had the opportunity to ask him if he felt Trump’s rhetoric against POC was creating a safe environment for POC in this country. He said he had never really thought Trump’s rhetoric was dangerous because he believed that his community (though not without fault or room for improvement) treated POC well and couldn’t believe that his community would listen to Trump and start to treat POC worse. It was eye-opening to me because I couldn’t believe that my coworker’s ignoring of Trump’s white supremacy came from a place of misplaced faith that his community would always try to do the write thing no matter what moral direction POTUS was pointing us in and that someone can still be a one-issue voter. I don’t go into conversations to change coworkers’ minds but I hope that come this election, my coworker can look back on our conversation and take it into consideration in his greater thinking of who he will support come November.

    1. squidarms*

      Avoiding political conversations with supporters of a candidate who proudly bad-mouths a marginalized group you are a part of is not “living in an echo chamber.”

      1. Diahann Carroll*

        This. Not wanting to surround yourself with bigots is a good thing – it will keep your blood pressure down and keep you out of jail.

    2. Nita*

      Oh no no no, I am never raising politics at work. It’s highly unlikely it would change a coworker’s mind – not when I could not drag a former good friend, that I’d trusted with my life before, out of the swamp of conspiracy theories. Not when I cannot drag certain relatives out of the same swamp. I’ll be talking to them about something innocent, and all of a sudden they drop something that makes me see red and leaves me feeling nauseous and dirty all over (now, I go out of my way to make sure we don’t talk, period). I don’t want to feel this way about my coworkers. I’d like to respect them and be able to work with them.

      1. Quill*

        Take it from someone who knew about their boss’ political views in 2016: knowing your boss thinks you shouldn’t have human rights is very bad for work.

  12. Jay*

    The difficulty of this became vividly clear to me during the month after George Floyd’s death. My company did several listening sessions and solicited Emails describing people’s struggles and concerns. They then presented some of them, anonymously, at a follow-up session. One woman of color said she was devastated when no one on her team mentioned the topic or asked how she was doing. Another said she saw work as her refuge and absolutely did not want to discuss it with anyone during the work day. So yes, read the room – and when in doubt, ask respectfully and take no for an answer.

    There’s a difference, too, between content and emotion. The example in Alison’s story was powerful because the person was speaking from her heart, and her colleagues listened.

    1. Spreadsheets and Books*

      My company handled things very similarly. We met in small groups, had town halls, were encouraged to speak to HR or bosses if we needed anything, were encouraged to take time off to protest if desired… but navigating that still wasn’t easy.

      I think our CFO (I work in a finance department and we all roll up under him) handled things as best as possible. He spoke with team leads directly to get a sense of who may want to have a one-on-one with him to talk things out and who would rather not want to discuss it. This was targeted primarily at people of color, but I think he would have talked with anyone who wanted to. Team leads also reached out about having conversations for those who would rather speak to someone they know better.

      My team is made up of four white women so none of us had any personal experience with racial injustice, but our SVP still had a chat session with us to share feelings, which was very welcome.

    2. But There is a Me in Team*

      Yup, it’s a lose-lose situation. One of my Black friends got outreach from co-workers that was 100% unwanted. He texted a few of us about how much it made him mad that folks were reaching out. A different friend was upset that white co-workers didn’t bring it up. Both had their own, deeply personal reasons for why they felt how they felt, and both said they couldn’t forgive the people who took the action they didn’t want. We can try to read the room, but our whole society is a tinderbox right now so you are bound to land badly on someone at some point and just hope they can give you some grace, and vice versa.

  13. Elenia*

    Politics around here is “Hey people of color, we know we wronged you, how do we fix it?” NO. It’s not on me to tell you how to fix your problems. Go fix your own house. I just want to do my job. My job is not poltiical. Don’t ask me to be on your task force. Don’t ask me to be part of that when I KNOW it will be six months of talk and no action and then it will fizzle out.

    1. Oh No She Di'int*

      One of the things I learned doing various kinds of activism in college and shortly thereafter is that the struggles for things like equality and justice are difficult, long, and full of switchbacks and sideways motion. I look back at my own ancestry–at those who fought a lifetime for the smallest crumb of progress–and realize that I owe them everything. And they pushed a lot longer than six months. If all that is asked of me is to keep the fire from going out–not even necessarily to make it burn any brighter–that is the least I can do in their honor. That’s my personal calculus; yours is different. But it’s why I consider it personally important for me to follow every opportunity for which there may be even a chance to make things a bit better.

  14. Crabby Patty*

    I’ve just learned not to. I don’t want anyone holding me hostage to their politics any more than they want me to hold them hostage to mine.

    But it does take practice and a lot of tongue-biting, especially when things like health benefits and deferred wages for retirement (i.e. Social Security and Medicare) seem likelier candidates for the chopping block. For the life of me, I cannot figure out the mentality that doesn’t prize the New Deal and all it’s done for the middle class and poor; nor do I understand the mindset that doesn’t see the cause and effect between unions and a robust middle class.

    Finally, unless you’re off the grid, you’re a socialist. My favorite example is from a few years ago when I was on a taxpayer-funded road, sitting at a taxpayer-funded red light, behind a federally-crash-tested car, staring at a “No socialism!” bumper sticker. Then there is the welfare for the 1%, which I am compelled to subsidize by way of covering tax loopholes and exemptions, as that same 1% sternly lectures me that I wouldn’t need a safety net if only I’d save more.

    The disconnect from reality is as at once laughable AND chilling.

    Yes – these are the kinds of things I don’t discuss at work.

  15. Empress Matilda*

    This has actually been one of the hardest changes for me, relative to the pandemic – it’s really hard to have non-work-related conversations these days! Everyone’s weekend was the same as the last one and the one before it and the one before that, and nobody has any plans they’re looking forward to. There’s not much going on in the way of sports, and talking about the weather can only take you so far.

    So that leaves…climate change and politics? Which are not great topics for small talk at work under the best of circumstances, and these are far from the best of circumstances. So now we’re in a position where the only thing that is “going on” in the world is frankly horrifying to talk about, and everything else feels irrelevant. Which leads to a lot of awkward silences on work calls, while we wait for everyone to join in and get started.

    It’s not a big deal, in the grand scheme of things. But it’s another of the ways that I’m feeling disconnected from people, when the choices seem to be “talk about nothing” or “talk about EVERYTHING.” Just another of the little ways in which this year is so screwed up.

    1. OyHiOh*

      The social part of today’s staff meeting included the weather – the best off of us got 2 inches, the worst off got 2 FEET – this was an enthusiastic and well supported conversation involving the weird weather patterns in our region, an upcoming out patient surgery (sort of relevent because it clears that human’s schedule for a couple days of “loopy” pain meds), and another person’s cat deciding that 9 am staff meeting is an excellent time to crawl into her human’s lap (and eventually onto human’s shoulders) to demand petting + cat stories from everyone else.

      We’re a pretty small group and somehow, nearly everyone is a photographer as a side gig so frequently, the “everyone’s logging in down time chatter” involves photos, recent shoots, virtual shows, etc.

      1. Quill*

        Lovely. This week’s progress meeting was “stories of how bilingualism broke my brain when I tried to switch from one language to the other too fast.”

        1. Nita*

          Ha. Ever since my kids got good at being bilingual, I’ve been stuttering and stammering because they keep switching languages on me. I’m saying ridiculous things like “put the basket in the fridge” when of course I mean “put the plates in the sink.” My mind can’t keep up.

        2. allathian*

          I’ve grown up bilingual and so has my son. My in-laws only speak one language and they’re always amazed at our instant language switches. I’ve been doing it since my son was born, and he switches languages fluently these days, and now, 11 years later they still keep commenting on how odd it feels to them that we can do it. My MIL is wonderful in every other respect but I could do without the comments every single time.

          1. Quill*

            My colleague and I both picked up our second language as tweens so it’s kind of a train wreck in terms of shifting gears.

      2. yala*

        Even our weather talk’s gotten dicey down here, as we’ve already had two hurricanes, and may well get a third this week.

        And tbh, it’s hard for me not to make that political, because, like…that’s climate change. That is an Issue that is not going to get better, and we’re going to have to actually do something about.

        …it makes me very much want to move up north. I’ll take the snow instead, I think.

  16. Elle*

    I had a TERRIBLE time with this when a certain medication was being touted as a treatment OR possible preventive for COVID-19. I take that medication for a recognized health condition, and have for 8 years. All of a sudden, it was presumed that I was immune to the virus. It was incredibly frustrating, and led me to plead for a politics free zone!

    1. Paperwhite*

      That sounds absolutely excruciating. One of my friends is in a similar situation and ended up nearly running out of their meds because of the sudden shortage. I was so worried for them (which is nothing to how worried they were for themselves).

  17. UKDancer*

    I think it’s incredibly difficult. For me as a British person the hardest political debate was around Brexit and it remains a running sore. My company was, on the whole, pretty good in the run up to the vote in asking people not to discuss personal opinions in the office and saying that people were fine to discuss these things with their friends informally but they might want to consider doing so away from the main office because not everyone would want to hear about it and people may have different opinions. They did quite a good job of managing the situation as a whole I think. I think it was the most divisive political issue I’ve seen and half of my family aren’t speaking to the other half still as a result.

    None of the general elections in the UK were as difficult as that in my view, although Covid and the Government’s response is also causing discussion.

    Virtual hugs to US people having to deal with this election in Covid times. I’m so sorry you’ve all got this happening now.

    1. Blackcat*

      Exactly 4 years ago, I was at an international conference in France.
      A Brit asked me “What are your thoughts on Trump?”
      I countered with, “What are your thoughts on Brexit?”
      His response was a slightly muttered “Right.”

      And that was the end of that conversation.

      It helps me to know that folks in the US aren’t alone in having more divisive politics. Like, it’s bad for all of us, but at least misery loves company. Friends of mine from Brazil and India have described similar family rifts as folks here in the US.

  18. Kevin Sours*

    The root of politics is policy. As in the rules we adopt to govern our lives and the goals we aspire to as a society. It’s really hard to separate that from our day to day existence and doing so aggressively leads to “stuff I agree with is just ‘common sense’, the stuff I disagree with is ‘politics’ and shouldn’t be discussed”.

    I mean, I get the desire to try an separate things, but it’s really hard to draw any kind of bright line. Especially these days.

  19. TiffIf*

    There is one particular person who just…does not read the room. And he is the ONLY one making little comments that are politically motivated, usually delivered in a jokey tone where he obviously expects we all agree with whatever he is saying right now. And no one joins him–there’s just this uncomfortable pause. I’ve pushed back a few times on a few things, but I just can’t expend the energy sometimes.

    1. Generic Name*

      Yes, I work with That Guy as well. He doesn’t care to notice my carefully neutral and noncommittal responses and general lack of input whenever he brings up politics. Which is A LOT.

  20. Three Flowers*

    Basically the only upside of the duration of Covid WFH: those of us who are still locked in our houses don’t have to face the world whatever day the election gets called. Folx who don’t have that luxury, I am truly sorry.

  21. Regular Going Anon*

    I work for Ford, and like most big companies, in the wake of George Floyd’s death, we had lots of very special discussions about racism, diversity, and police brutality. They were pretty generic.

    Naturally, it also came up that we make police vehicles and some employees asked how we could square producing police vehicles with a commitment to supporting BLM. They tried to dodge it, but finally had to address it. But our CEO sent out a kind of ham-fisted email to try and address it basically saying “Yeah no, we’re not going to stop making those SUVs and trucks.” We got vague reasoning about keeping first responders safe. I sense while the police vehicles aren’t a huge portion of sales, they didn’t want to risk the fallout for other vehicle sales were we to stop producing those.

    1. Black Horse Dancing*

      Police vehicles cost a pretty penny too and Ford makes a lot of them. I can see them not wanting to cut off that revenue stream.

  22. Jay*

    I’m a doc in full-time clinical practice. In the past six months, I have dodged or finessed my way through more political conversations than in the preceding 30 years of my career. It’s partly the incredibly charged atmosphere but mostly that the current political crisis is also a medical crisis. It’s my job to discuss COVID with my patients and their families, assess what precautions they are taking, and advise them about what I think they should do. People are terrified and angry and they want to talk about it – and since I can’t (and don’t want to) shut down the medical part of the conversation, they end up sliding into partisan talking points before I can pivot. Mostly I just change the subject – whether or not I agree with them. I try not to get started rebutting inaccuracies unless they are driving dangerous behavior. So I will have a fairly lengthy discussion about why my recommendation to wear a mask is not based on my “opinion” but rather on verifiable scientific fact, just like my recommendation to take blood pressure medicine to reduce their risk of stroke. I won’t respond to the assertion that the virus was genetically engineered and released by the Chinese government/the pharmaceutical industry/the Democratic party/President Obama/Anthony Fauci (I’ve heard all of those).

    It’s exhausting and infuriating and terrifying all at the same time. It’s not going away after the election. And now I am facing people who really think my colleagues and I are fabricating the COVID numbers to make more money. Aarghhh.

    1. Blue Roses*

      the assertion that the virus was genetically engineered and released by the Chinese government/the pharmaceutical industry/the Democratic party/President Obama/Anthony Fauci

      Don’t forget Bill Gates!

      1. Diahann Carroll*

        I thought it was Jeff Bezos and he helped deliver it around the globe thanks to Prime Two Day shipping, lol.

        People are nuts.

    2. Funk*

      I’m still pretty burned that the CDC initially advised against universal masks when masks made total sense. But as a medical provider I felt compelled to follow CDC guidelines even though they were based on “lack of data for masks” (meaning, guidance should have said we do not advice for or against masks; should never have advised against masks) rather than “data that masks aren’t helpful”.

      1. JO*

        I was under the impression that Fauci lied about the effectiveness of masks so he could divert the supply to healthcare workers. His heart might have been in the right place (I’m being generous here), but ultimately the CDC lost a lot of credibility in the end.

        1. Oh No She Di'int*

          I don’t think that Dr. Fauci “lied” about anything. (He is not a one-man policy making machine.) As I’ve said in my comment below, science proceeds based on evidence. And when there is no evidence to support a particular practice that practice does not get recommended. When evidence emerges that enlarges our understanding of the phenomenon, recommendations are updated accordingly. None of this is evidence of anyone acting in bad faith. Although I agree with Funk that a lack of evidence should not have led to a recommendation against the practice.

          1. anon here*

            I would argue that the initial CDC guidelines, while based on “the science” (ok, the lack of science) actually show how the science itself was shaped by politics. Hear me out: cloth masks have very few modern studies behind them. Why? Cloth masks are only used by poor people in poor countries (until this year). Cloth mask usage was seen as an outdated cultural practice prevalent in non-white/non-European countries, so why study that? The goal is to modernize those countries, right, so they don’t have to wear cloth masks anymore because modern, rich countries have disposable surgical masks available.

            The jargon term was “resource poor nations” and you can look at old WHO documents that basically say this — cloth masks are only used in “resource poor nations” and so we do not need to concern ourselves with them. For all that Fauci has done many good things, and he has, I think he and the rest of the mainstream medical establishment were caught initially in this blind spot of cultural snobbiness.

            My spouse is a physician at a government health agency. This snobbiness was made manifest all over in March/April 2020 — there was initially an idea that support staff shouldn’t get masks at all because of the PPE shortage (like, the people checking you in wouldn’t get masks at all) and when spouse inquired about this, the response was 1) they’re not doing procedures and 2) lack of evidence for cloth masks means we will NOT ALLOW them for support staff, and shortage of surgical masks and N95s means we will not provide them. Sure, the evidence about airborne transmission wasn’t strong yet, but this was still stupid. After a whole bunch of employees got sick after working in the new clinic only three days, and after the nurse manager found out and totally flipped out that employees were not being protected, masks were mandated for all — but it really showed how fallacious “absence of evidence = evidence of absence” is.

      2. Oh No She Di'int*

        I agree that the messaging there was confusing and has done lasting damage. Partly it’s because most people just aren’t embedded in the scientific method the way scientists are. People are pretty unforgiving of and uncomfortable with the idea that science can “change its mind” when more evidence comes along.

        It seems to me that the early recommendations were driven by a lack of data but also on the reality that PPE was exceedingly scarce and really did need to be saved for front-line workers (correct?). Then once it became clear that even a bandana would make a measurable difference, my sense is that there was some debate over whether that knowledge might drive irresponsible behavior, i.e., cause people to think that now it was safe to go pack themselves into rooms. Kind of a version of the “seatbelts cause people to drive more recklessly” problem. (Some research shows they do, by the way.) The public, however, needs bright lines and has no patience for or understanding of all that subtle argumentation.

        1. Doc in a Box*

          Honestly, I’m still angry as hell about the CDC bandanna-and-scarf recommendation for front-line workers. It was the equivalent of generals in WW1 sending foot soldiers over the top without armor. Yes, PPE was scarce, and patients were stealing hand sanitizer and boxes of gloves off the walls. But “just wear a scarf” came across so idiotic; I thought it was satire the first time I heard it.

          I still don’t trust Robert Redfield (head of the CDC) an inch farther than I can throw him. Anthony Fauci, by contrast, has been a stand-up guy since the AIDS epidemic.

          (PS Bandannas, scarves, and neck gaiters are nearly worthless in a high-risk environment like a hospital. You need a face covering that can be secured over the bridge of your nose and both ears, and that hooks under your chin. My hospital system recommends a plastic face shield or safety goggles — like in chemistry lab — for all patient encounters as well.)

        2. Funk*

          Yes masks got scarce really fast – we used to have them out and about for patients then we had to hide them because people would just take the whole box if they weren’t watched (back in march; now we have greeters with masks who hand them out; there are more masks; etc.) I do understand that the CDC was trying to balance making sure masks were available to healthcare workers and the fact that masks weren’t yet clearly proven to be helpful when out in the general public, but it was frustrating to tell cancer patients “CDC advises against masks” and “we can’t give you masks because CDC recommends against it and they are scarce” when, IDK, pretty much anything else would would have been great. Ie “we are unsure about masks; these are the types of [durable] masks that can block droplets and you could consider wearing them if available”

          1. Oh No She Di'int*

            “we are unsure about masks; these are the types of [durable] masks that can block droplets and you could consider wearing them if available”

            You should have been in charge of CDC messaging.

    3. But There is a Me in Team*

      That sounds exhausting Jay. thank you for the vital work you and fellow medical folks are doing. I am sending you good wishes and hopes for health and strength.

    4. selenejmr*

      In March someone told me they were sure it was caused by satellites. I did a short explanation of how the illness can spread quickly via air travel. They seemed to accept it.

  23. AAM fan #1*

    I used to read Direct Report before Slate put up some kind obstacle, making me register or something, so I’ll have to miss Alison’s article. Your comments are interesting even without the article, so thanks to you all

  24. ren*

    I’m growing irritated by LinkedIn for a similar reason. LinkedIn has been amazing for me in terms of job opportunities, but I don’t like how political, social and racial opinions are popping up left and right there. That’s not what LinkedIn is for, in my opinion, and I’d like for it to stay that way and remain more of a safe space away from these types of discussions. I understand that something like race can very much be part of career discussions legitimately, but I’m talking about people debating police brutality on LinkedIn and whether or not the police are right to use the force they’ve used in some of these cases or is it the person’s fault and such. That’s not what I want to hear at work, nor is it what I want to see on LinkedIn.

    I’ve stopped following/un-connected with recruiters who contacted me about jobs on LinkedIn because they got too political. Plus, the opinions you put on LinkedIn or “like” on LinkedIn can affect the workplace, turn off potential employers, turn off potential new hires, turn off co-workers, etc.

    1. JO*

      It’s quite scary now how many people advocate for someone to be fired because they have political opinions that differ from theirs.

      1. But There is a Me in Team*

        Successfully advocate, no less. My observation, some of the folks just coming into the workplace the last 5+ years are used to getting their college professors fired really easily. So that’s how they see work too. I know when I was in college, (not THAT long ago) you could certainly let loose in your course eval. but the idea that anyone who disagrees with you should be fired wasn’t there. I’m sad about the intolerance across the political/social spectrum because historically when people stop talking, they start doing other things, like maybe shooting. I have middle of the night fears about civil war in this country, which I try to tamp down using Daylight Rational Voice.

              1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                As to your comments you submitted after this calling me names (which are particularly bizarre since we agree politically): You are now banned from this site. Please do not continue to comment here.

            1. Peter Piper Picked a Peck of Pickled Peppers*

              What a bloody cheek. Would you tell someone in their own home to stop being so sensitive?

        1. nm*

          This is fascinating to me. I have only ever seen 1 college professor get fired, after admitting to something pretty horrible!

          In my experience it’s pretty hard for that to happen even without tenure, so it is interesting to hear that you have had the reverse experience

          1. Amy*

            Adjuncts don’t usually “get fired” — they just don’t get offered classes for the next semester. And it happens constantly, sometimes because of poor evaluations and sometimes for no discernible reason. Sometimes they aren’t hired back for a couple of semesters or even years at a given institution and then they randomly get offered classes again. There is zero security or even predictability.

            1. Stephanie*

              That’s a good point. And a lot of subfields are small (at least the one I did my graduate research in…all the researchers kind of knew each other), so you could get blocked from a lot of openings.

          2. Stephanie*

            Yeah, at least at my alma maters, it had to rise to almost the level of criminal acts for a tenured professor to get fired. You could let loose on the eval, but it tended to do little. To be fair, I thankfully never had any profs who did anything egregious beyond phoning it in.

      2. Paperwhite*

        In my experience people get fired not for “differing political opinions” but because they actively practice bigotry — hands-on sexual harassment, racist denigration of coworkers, misgendering and castigation of coworkers, and so on — and then claim these were ‘political positions’. If a coworker tells me the US would be better off if the police shot *more* Black people, I’m not going to consider that a mere ‘political opinion’. Not least because I’m Black and that’s the context in which said coworker says this.

  25. Amy*

    In 2016 I worked in a college writing center in the Northeast US, and like most of my coworkers there, I was (and am) a very left-leaning Democrat. But our boss started our first mandatory group meeting after the election by asking everyone to go around in a circle and say what they were going to do to contribute to the resistance. I still think about this moment a lot. I certainly don’t think any workplace can be a completely politics-free zone, and arguably, our boss did “read the room” since I think all of us were on the same side politically. Yet it still felt wrong, like an important line had been crossed.

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