how do I draw the line on political conversations at work?

A reader writes:

I’m the lead for a small team that has brief daily morning “standup meetings” – usually around 5-10 minutes of checking in and updating one another about what we’re working on that day. During the pandemic we’ve been mostly remote, so these take place via video chat and have, predictably, gotten a little more social and longer than normal.

One of our team members is a very passionate activist who is very involved in social justice, protesting, and politics. Most of us are engaged to some extent but this is her main focus in life outside of work. Personally I agree with a lot of her views and think it’s great that she’s so involved in addressing social inequities. The problem is that she has a tendency to launch into socio-political topics first thing, which can either derail or distract from what is supposed to be a pretty focused and short check-in. It also makes it difficult to shift things back to work without a lot of awkwardness — who wants to be the person to launch into work updates after she informs us of a police shooting or another emotionally charged topic?

By and large, the rest of the team is sympathetic to these positions, but where is the line between shared social and political concerns and being a captive audience? I already spend a good amount of time thinking, talking, and taking political action outside of work, and I find it difficult to concentrate on my job when these topics come up first thing in the morning. Is there a good way to ask her to cut down on the news talk in these meetings without coming across as an insensitive jerk?

Not only is there a way to ask her to stop the political talk, but as the team lead, you have an obligation to the rest of the group to do it.

I don’t blame you at all for being unsure about how to go about it! It can feel tricky to shut down this kind of talk, because of course you don’t want to come across as silencing discussions about social justice, police violence, or other crucial issues. But it’s okay to say that work meetings are for work talk and that they aren’t the right place for political conversations, no matter how important those conversations are to have.

Of course, it’s true that you probably talk about other nonwork topics at those meetings — how people’s weekends were, someone’s new cat, what you’re binge-watching on Netflix, and so forth — but politics can be divisive and exhausting in a way few other topics are. It’s especially problematic at work, because people won’t always feel comfortable speaking up if they disagree, or if they’re emotionally depleted and just want the conversation to move on.

And just wanting the conversation to move on is a really common response. A lot of people are genuinely burned out by politics right now — even politics they agree with. Political issues can also be deeply painful or frightening for many people, especially right now, when much of what’s being debated centers on people’s right to safely exist. Burying our heads in the sand isn’t the answer, but it’s reasonable for people to have boundaries on when they do and don’t have those conversations, and for them to prefer not to be pulled back into that emotional space while they’re trying to work.

So you’ll be doing the rest of your team a favor if you rein in the political discussion. Particularly as the team lead, you have a responsibility to keep these meetings on track (assuming you’re the one leading them) — and others may assume that if you’re not intervening, they shouldn’t either.

One way to do it is just to entirely refocus the meetings on work. At the start of the next meeting, you could say, “I want to respect everyone’s time, so I’m going to try to get these meetings back to five to ten minutes again. We’ll just do a quick check-in on work updates and then I’ll let us all go. I want to cover X, Y, Z …”

But you can also address it more directly: “We’ve been getting into politics a lot. I appreciate that we have a thoughtful, socially involved team, but I also know that those can be tough, deeply emotional conversations for a lot of people right now. So I’m going to ask that we keep this space politics free for now, unless it’s relevant to something we’re working on.”

Or, if those discussions have been so obviously driven by one person that it’ll be clear you’re really only addressing this to her, you’re better off speaking with her privately instead. In that case, you could say something like, “I really appreciate your commitment to social justice and the thoughtful way you’ve shared updates with the team. I want to ask that you hold it back from our morning meetings, though. These can be hard and emotional issues for people right now, even when they agree, and it can be difficult to shift gears back to work afterward.” You could add, “This isn’t at all a commentary on the importance of those issues; in fact, you and I have similar political involvement outside of our jobs. It’s just about keeping work a space where people don’t need to discuss politics if they don’t want to, or even if they just need a break from it.”

These scripts all take into account that you’re the team lead and, as such, presumably have the authority to direct how you want your meetings to go. But even if you weren’t the team lead, you’d still have standing to say something simply as a member of the team. In that case, you could try saying at the start of the next meeting, “Before we get started, I wanted to ask if we could rein in the political talk for a while. I know we often get into politics, and it’s a hard topic for me right now. I’d be grateful for a break from it!” Or even, “I know how important these issues are, but this is one of the few spaces I have to not think about politics right now. I’d be grateful to focus on anything else!”

But do speak up. I can virtually guarantee you that other members of your team will appreciate that you did.

I originally published this at New York Magazine.

Read an update to this letter

{ 156 comments… read them below }

  1. StudentScientist*

    In my workplace we had a very similar issue of someone who would hijack meetings to discuss political issues, which we were all sympathetic to but was counterproductive. What ended up helping a lot was creating a separate slack channel for these these topics, giving an outlet for that person. Anyone who isn’t interested can now just turn off notifications for that channel.

    1. Red 5*

      That’s what I was going to suggest, giving people a space to talk _if they choose to_ can be really helpful and supportive. And it’s easier to say “I don’t object to the discussion, just the time/ place” if there’s is another (optional) time and place for like minds.

      That can get tricky in some environments (mine is bound by the Hatch Act and different supervisors interpret the act soften ways) but with remote work and chat channels I think it can be done.

    2. SheLooksFamiliar*

      I’ve been ‘held hostage’ by people I actually agree with; if it’s a small, casual group, I simply say, ‘Excuse me, I need to get going…’

      However, a team meeting is not the right forum for a political discussion, and I came here to also suggest Slack, etc. The meeting host also needs to take the person aside and ask them to keep political discussions out of meetings – things derail, right? Also, I’ve seen mild agreement turn into outraged comments like, ‘Yeah! And you wanna know another thing that bugs me about that?’ And so on.

      1. Artemesia*

        These days people tend to understand ‘talking politics right now is making me crazy anxious – can we not do this at work.’

      2. Chinook*

        This. I would feel very uncomfortable when someone is talking about social justice in the workplace because often the ones who bring it up have very different views from my own. Most of the time, I can keep quiet, but if you start in on how bad cops are or how you are working hard to protect reproductive rights and I can’t leave the room, something may spill out. I respect the hard work people are doing to fight for their political views, but some of those rub right against lives I hold dear and are put at risk.

        If the boss didn’t shut this down in a mandatory meeting, I would feel like they endorse these views (not just believe them) and that, since mine are different, that I may not be welcome. It is also important to not that this may have a disparate impact on those who are silent about their conservative religious views – they too would very quickly feel unwelcome.

        1. Paperwhite*

          I think your point would have been better made without specific examples of your views. Not least because knowing how explicitly you don’t value my life on multiple axes makes it a little harder for me to agree with your basic point.

      3. But There is a Me in Team*

        Yeah, there’s no winning, and these things escalate so fast. Someone below mentioned having cops they care about. For every person who brings up Botham Jean, Philando Castile, or George Floyd, someone else is going to bring up Edelmiro Garza, Ismael Chavez, Lorne Ahrens and the 4 others killed by a guy who “wanted to kill white people, especially white officers.” In reality, we should all be upset by all of these murders, but as with so many other things in the US right now, there’s pressure to *publicly* take sides. So agreed that a stand up, of all things, isn’t the time or place. Also can totally relate to being held hostage by those I agree with. I finally told a friend: “I agree, and have agreed since 2016 that Trump is awful! Put that energy into someone who is on the fence and let’s just drink our coffee.”

  2. Pay No Attention To The Man Behind The Curtain*

    You could set new rule that everyone gets to mention 1 and only 1 non-work activity in the meeting, briefly — as in “Today I joined a Black Lives Matter protest at 8th and Main. We were there for 5 hours” and then move on. We don’t have anyone that does political updates, but we have one lady on my team who is taking an online watercolor class and progressing along beautifully with her artwork — she gets about 1 minute in the weekly team meeting to show us her latest project and update us on her new technique. If the activist employee can’t or won’t keep it to a 1 minute update, then you might have to shut it all down.

    1. Sleepy*

      Yes, my office starts a lot of meetings with a check-in question that is pretty generic (e.g. What’s your favorite breakfast?). It gives people a chance to quickly share something personal while also keeping stuff from getting *too* personal and derailing the meeting. I know these kinds of ice breakers drive some people crazy, but they work really well for our culture.

      1. Squigs*

        We do the same in our meetings and for me, it’s a nice way to get to know my coworkers and managers since I started at my company after the quarantine began and have been remote the whole time.

      2. BRR*

        We also do a soft question and it works well for our culture. I’ve found it helps keep the work talk more focused since it gives the small talk its own space.

        Also, I thought that said online “watercooler” class and imagined a class to facilitate the casual relationships usually formed at the water cooler. (Million dollar idea?)

      3. Richard Hershberger*

        I am in the “driven crazy” camp. Ask me what is my favorite breakfast? I will stare blankly at you. If pressed, I will take my revenge with a long and excruciating monologue about the logical assumptions built into the question.

        1. Oh No She Di'int*

          Really? Would you really? I’m not a fan such “ice breaker” type things, but I also realize that I live in a society and wouldn’t launch a nobody-wins game that seems designed to ruin it for those who do enjoy it. I’d probably just say, “Haha, I’ll pass, thanks!” Would you really do as you suggest?

          1. Richard Hershberger*

            Key phrase: “if pressed.” If this is just a silly unimportant bit of fluff, then once I have made it clear that I don’t want to play, that should be that. But if it is vitally important that we discuss breakfast food, then I have no obligation to treat it as a silly unimportant bit of fluff. The real goal, of course, is that the next time, they will leave me out of this nonsense.

        2. T. Boone Pickens*

          *Note to self*

          Step 1-Invite Richard Hershberger to a party filled with all my enemies.
          Step 2-Throw in 2 packs of Cards Against Humanity.
          Step 3-Lock door behind me as I leave.
          Step 4-?
          Step 5-Profit.

        3. Pay No Attention To The Man Behind The Curtain*

          So much angst on such a banal question? Why not just say “cereal” and move on? If you want bonus points for you, I guess, you can secretly glory in the knowledge that you “fooled” the group because you’re lying about cereal…dun-dun-duuunnn.

        4. Metadata minion*

          What’s wrong with saying “I don’t eat breakfast” or “eh, it varies; I don’t have a favorite”?

          1. Richard Hershberger*

            Think of those horrific letters we see here about mandatory karaoke or regular meetings where the employees are told to talk about their mental health. This is a form of the same thing: a weaker form, a a form nonetheless. I am not against socializing at work. If people want to talk about their breakfasts, more power to them. But dont try to rope me in.

    2. Hey Karma, Over Here*

      That’s a great idea. All but the most rigid “let’s get through the bullet points and get out people” will make it through one minute, when they feel that it is part of the meeting and is kept on a schedule.
      And how it’s opt in is great.

      1. Pay No Attention To The Man Behind The Curtain*

        I’m 80% a “let’s get through the bullet points” kind of person, especially on a Zoom meeting, which for some reason exhaust me more than anything else at work, and I look forward to the artwork update way more than I look forward to the web designer’s update about how WordPress 5 has a problem with a custom script that his predecessor wrote 5 years ago and now he has to… zzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

        1. Hey Karma, Over Here*

          I was wondering about that! Exclamation point because, I am sure I’d feel the same way. I’d have a vested interest, like my new mini webisode of amateur painting with Pauline. Because I know her and I want to see how things progress.
          At some point, THAT would be my interest in going to the meeting, too.

    3. Mallory Janis Ian*

      Ha I used to have a coworker who would give us personal updates in the team meetings, even when she was the only one to do so. It would be five or six people announcing the status of the TPS reports through their department, then “I rode my horse and trained him to take several jumps” and then back to TPS status updates.

  3. OrigCassandra*

    OP, I am assuming you do not work for a public agency of any kind.

    If you do, though, you really really REALLY need to shut this down ASAP because anything that can be perceived as political campaigning on the job is an absolute no-go. (“Remember to vote!” is OK. Beyond that, all the nopes.)

    1. Jellyfish*

      Yes in principle, but that can be difficult in the US right now. If I wear a mask to work or happen to mention my same sex spouse, some will inherently see that as a political statement. When some people’s very existences are being politicized, it can be difficult to draw a clear line between politics and no politics at work.

      1. Red 5*

        Exactly this. I’ve been accused of getting political about things when I was just discussing life for myself or my friends. We’ve had supervisors try to muzzle employees from discussing science when their job is to talk about science, because there are facts certain parties want to pretend are political opinions.

        It’s a fine line but you have to be careful that by trying to say “no politics” you aren’t in the process being discriminatory. And that you aren’t equating facts and opinion, or equating bigotry with a political view.

      2. Drew*

        +1. I honestly have no concept of what is “political” or “not political” anymore. I don’t think I find the distinction useful. I *do* have a good sense of what topics to be judicious about bringing up, as they might reasonably make someone uncomfortable, start a debate, or distract from work.

      3. OrigCassandra*

        You’re right; I should have been clearer.

        In my (public) workplace, what’s not allowed is campaigning. Opinions on political issues? Sure. “Elect Candidate X/vote no on Referendum Y or…”? Nope.

    2. old curmudgeon*

      I work for a public agency and I really wish my grande boss would read this.

      I have had an awful time shutting down my boss’s political rants. While her politics are closely aligned with mine, today’s political landscape has been spiking my anxiety to the point of making me physically ill, and the only way I can cope is to maintain a complete news embargo. I have already voted absentee, so I’ve done all within my power, but every time she starts off on another rant about the latest thing that upsets her, I can feel my blood pressure start to rise, and I know I’m in for another sleepless night.

      This doesn’t happen in formal meetings, just in conversations, and I try to manufacture some reason to end the conversation (“oops, my cat just threw up” has been my go-to), but it’s exhausting to have to keep dodging her. I wish someone (not me) would pull her aside and remind her of what you said here.

      1. crochetqueen*

        I don’t have any advice but know that you are not alone. I’ve cut all politics talk, even with my husband, who watches so much news that it could be called his second favorite sport. I was getting horribly sick and depressed earlier in the year and decided to cut most politics out of my life for the year. I will hear what happens but not go down the rabbit hole.

      2. Hey Karma, Over Here*

        It sucks that it is your boss.
        I just tell people, “nope, I don’t discuss politics at work.”
        And then end it. Even a “but, you agree…” or “don’t you think, though…”
        Nope. Not at work.
        Can you tell her that you don’t discuss politics at work. Old habit, but it’s served you well. “It takes my focus too much off of work when I get riled up about something.”
        Which is true.

    3. Aquawoman*

      This is an overstatement of the federal rules. The Hatch Act bans partisan speech, but talking about political issues is not partisan, even issues with clear party divisions. It has to be about a party or a candidate. Because the 1st Amendment also applies to feds.

      1. Anne_Not_Carrot*

        Thank you for saying this – as a former church employee this misunderstanding of the laws makes me a little batty. Again, I agree that this kind of talk should often be curbed but no, I’m actually not going to get fined/lose my 501c3 status if I talk about what the Bible says about immigration.

      2. Black Horse Dancing*

        ANd the Hatch Act pretty much is being violated right and left and no one is doing anything about it. It’s basically useless now.

      3. NotAnotherManager!*

        Yup, which is exactly why my fed spouse has to listen to their boss and a coworker spend 1/4 of their poorly-run team meetings talking derogatorily about mask-wearers, people who social distance, and those who think COVID is not a hoax – which is basically the entire team except for those two. The boss’s college-age kid has COVID, and the coworker has a white supremacist tattoo that he only covers half the time and brags about violating pubic safety related to gym use.

        1. Gazebo Slayer*

          It’s disturbing that a federal employee can have a visible white supremacist tattoo and refuse to engage in any COVID safety measures and keep his job.

    4. OP*

      You’re right, not a public agency. I’ve worked for public agencies in the past and that’s honestly made it a bit easier to shut down overtly political talk since there’s a solid rule to point to. However, my current place of employment tends to lean pretty left, which I think can normalize a level and tone of political discussion that wouldn’t be normal elsewhere.

  4. Sleepy*

    In addition to Allison’s scripts, it sounds like providing some more structure to the meetings could help keep conversations focused on work. I’ve been experimenting with using apps like whiteboarding tools, polling tools, etc to share work updates quickly during meetings & quickly get input on what needs more support, detail, or discussion. My office has also created dedicated social time (an optional remote lunch every other week) for people to share their personal updates.

  5. ShortT*

    She come to the meetings and actively derails them. She’s the one being an insensitive jerk here.

    “Please stop the news talk in these meetings.”

    She’s not Moses. This isn’t Mount Sinai. She needs to knock it off.

    1. Drew*

      I don’t think that being consumed by the state of the world right now and having a hard time finding the right boundaries for expressing it is “being an insensitive jerk.” I’m glad that Allison and OP are interested in more sensitive solutions here.

      1. Schuyler Seestra*

        I agree the coworker is being insensitive. Her rants could also be triggering to coworkers. As a black woman I don’t have the spoons to discuss the current political landscape especially around the subjugation of black folks. I pretty much completely avoid the news. I’ve made it very known to friends and family that I do not want to discuss such matters. Not because I don’t care, but because my mental health can’t handle it.

        So LW coworkers rants would be completely upsetting to me. I hope the LW figures out how to shut coworker down ASAP.

      2. Week old sour dough*

        Time, place, and audience matter.

        First thing in the morning with coworkers (relationships that can be close or basically stranger) is not appropriate.

        I am perfectly friendly with the woman who is on my team, we’ve worked together for a year, and she’s only just felt comfortable telling (really just demonstrating by showing her political buttons) who she voted for in 2016. In some offices it’s really not a safe place to talk politics, for everyone.

        And I say this as a leftist who did not say who she voted for in the primary! Lol

      3. juliebulie*

        I think the fact that it’s a work-related meeting for work topics sets a very clear boundary as to whether or not non-work-related topics are appropriate. That’s not a matter of sensitivity. It’s a work meeting for work. So talk about work.

        All of us are fed up and exhausted. You can express it at a different time in another place.

        1. allathian*

          I’m pretty direct and hate wasting time in meetings, but even I have come to appreciate the small talk we indulge in as we’re getting started and as everyone joins the meeting. It’s like going to a conference room, I’ve never attended an in-person meeting without at least some informal chat before the meeting starts, as everyone’s settling down. The same thing applies in virtual meetings.

          So talking about the weather, pets or other innocuous subjects is fine for a few minutes, as long as it’s not a round-robin where everyone has to contribute. Political rants aren’t OK.

    2. Thankful for AAM*

      True but the format is that everyone can share personal stuff at the start of the meeting. Don’t be surprised when someone does exactly what you asked them to do, just not in a way you intended.

      1. allathian*

        Yeah, but then it’s up to the person running the meeting to decide that a particular topic is too disruptive.

  6. cubone*

    I think it’s true and important that these issues are deeply personal and can be deeply painful, and having a space free of them is important. I think what’s lacking for me in this response (fairly so, because the person didn’t ask for this!) is what about when your work should reasonably be connected and influenced by these topics? I’m not sure it’s really the best approach to have a “politics free space” if you’re a nonprofit providing services to marginalized groups for example… leaving political and activist topics out of the equation risks creating some false concept of neutrality or distance for organizations (and the people working in them) that need to be conscientious and reflective about their role. I don’t mean orgs that have political advocacy as a goal, just anywhere that reasonably aims to impact people/communities/the environment are deeply intertwined with topics that might be considered “politics”. Just curious how people feel that impacts things.

    I work for a community organization that has had to deeply grapple with our organizational relationship with police services over the last few months. Our leadership shouldn’t have needed prompting to re-evaluate this, but I’m glad these conversations were seen as integral to how we work and not as “politics.” We didn’t make this change because of a meeting with an agenda item like “reflect on current news and what it means for us.” We changed because a staff person shared in a team meeting what a hard time they were having seeing all the media about the murder of George Floyd and how deeply painful it is for them, as a Black person, to see our organization talk about working closely with police services without reflecting on how that relationship might diminish the trust our Black clients have in our services. It was honest, highly personal, and deeply political, while for many of our non-Black staff it had been something they thought of as important but distant (I’m in Canada). That personal, political discussion led us to completely reevaluate an element of our work, for the better.

    1. Lucille the Screaming Cat*


      I was also going to come here to say perhaps you should look at what spaces there ARE to discuss “politics.” Colleagues do need to engage in social justice issues with each other; if it’s not at the morning meeting, which makes sense to me, it needs to be at another time and place.

  7. Anon and anon*

    Alison thank you for pointing out that lots of people are currently burned out on talking about politics that they agree with. My mom tried to engage me the other day and I felt terrible that I had to say (for my sanity) sorry mom not today, wanna hear about 50th cute thing your granddaughter did this week.
    Right now I’m so exhausted by politics that I’m saving my political energy for doing not discussing.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I’ve had a full-on ban on my mom talking politics with me for the last four years, even though we agree completely on the issues. I just find it draining and not productive to rehash something we already agree on and which is deeply upsetting. I know some people draw energy and/or comfort from those conversations, but I think it’s okay if you don’t.

      1. OrigCassandra*

        Same with me and my dad. We agree on everything; he’s just contemptuous and loud and incessant and I just can’t.

    2. ...*

      Same here. I get almost more frustrated with the people I agree with constantly trying to engage. I agree with you. I truly can’t mentally deal with talking about Trump anymore, I just can’t. Also, I know where and how to vote, I’m not confused, and I don’t need help finding my polling place. I love my sister, but I’m 30+ years old and have voted in many elections! I’m registered!!

      1. Happily Self Employed*

        I don’t want to be one of those people bugging their friends about voting when they already are aware of the election and how one participates in it. A minister I know posted plaintively on Failbook that she’s really, REALLY tired of having to opt out of more messages about voting because all of her friends apparently signed up for the same “text all your contacts to make sure they know where to vote” tool.

        If I think really hard, I may come up with three people at most who might not already be studying the sample ballots my county just sent out. And worse yet–most of my Contacts on my phone are my clients (hard pass on bugging them about voting), or people I haven’t been in contact with in a decade. I relocated in 2010, and I simply didn’t stay in touch with most of the people I met then in my job search networking (after I started an unrelated business) and housing searches.

        I do text banking because they have databases of people who haven’t voted consistently and live in swing states. However, some of them are apparently getting a lot of similar texts, based on replies I get along with the STOP requests. At least it makes sense to poke people who haven’t been voting regularly–bugging my friends, who DO vote, is just patronizing. My best friend, who talks about redistricting in her neighboring city, is not someone who needs to be reminded to register or turn in her ballot.

    3. Anonym*

      Yep, there are a lot of us out there being very deliberate about how we approach this so we can be effective without losing it. Saving energy for doing, not discussing is a really helpful framing that I will steal. (Much better than the quietly desperate “I just can’t right now” that I’ve been blurting out…)

    4. Mallory Janis Ian*

      Same with me and my husband some days right now. We agree 999% on all the issues, but it is very wearing to just echo one another’s distress back and forth with no real result except just wearing ourselves out.

      1. Mallory Janis Ian*

        Ha I meant we agree 99% with each other, not 999% — like some sort of compatibility brag.

    5. cncx*

      yes, you nailed it. was talking with a friend yesterday and our view line up but she too is burnt out. this is exactly it.

  8. staceyizme*

    This one is tricky. Because people are at home, some team members may have more bottled up energy than others. Maybe have one meeting a month that is a slightly longer format that includes a few minutes for “whatever is on your mind”. Going around the team when you do this will naturally limit anyone from monopolizing things. You can easily find ways to connect these concerns to work (at least loosely) and limiting the number of occasions is probably an easier, perhaps even a kinder, tweak than trying to make it into a “never do this” rule.

    1. Free Meerkats*

      So long as the “What’s on your mind” section is at the end and decidedly not mandatory. That way when Betty starts going off on the latest thing to happen in her area that she saw on the Neighbors app, the rest of us can just leave.

    2. Teekanne aus Schokolade*

      As someone who has been absolutely triggered into full-blown panic attacks because of the political discussions right now, I appreciate Alison’s directives here. My family is back in the States and hearing doom and gloom at a place I’m counting on to be a source of purpose for me is NOT what I need. I don’t need to feel helpless and hopeless when I’m working to make the world a better place.

      1. juliebulie*

        Thank you for working to make the world a better place. The world really needs it right now.

    3. Week old sour dough*

      I think working from home has relaxed some boundaries we really need to keep up. I know I’ve seen it in my work group. I can’t wait to go back to the office (safely).

    4. Lily Rowan*

      I have a regular “watercooler chat” meeting on the calendar for my team to just catch up on whatever. It’s totally optional, but most people join most weeks. Sometimes there is some work talk, but usually not. But even that I try to keep from being all politics all the time. I think we all agree, but you can never be 100% sure, and some of us are just exhausted!

      I’ve asked a few times if they want to cancel it, and they always say no, so I do think people are really missing the “social” part of work, seven months into WFH for us.

      1. allathian*

        My team has the same kind of meeting, although as I’m not in the US, we’re at several removes from the heat of what’s happening there. Sure, the 2020 election looms large in the news here too, because what happens in the US affects the rest of the world, but it’s not as if we can do anything about it. We mostly talk about fairly innocuous subjects like the weather, plans for the weekend if any, vacation plans if someone has a vacation coming up, home improvement projects, gardening, kids and grandkids if applicable, etc. In the spring, when my son was doing remote learning, he interrupted me once during one of our social meetings. I turned on my camera and told him to say hi to my coworkers. He did, and after that, he knew better than to interrupt me when I was in a meeting. :)

        Politics and religion are by and large off the table, and I’m very glad about that.

    5. The New Wanderer*

      I think if you do include an “around the room” for non-work topics, you have to be really, really clear on the time limit for each person and be willing to enforce it. Ideally it would be something offline like the Slack suggestions.

      We did an around the room once for introductions in a newly formed team of 6 people. The first three people took maybe 2 minutes to summarize their work history and maybe hit a highlight or two. The fourth person went on for 10 solid minutes in excruciating detail about their work history, following one anecdote with the next and only eventually acknowledged taking a bit longer than others, oopsie, and then KEPT TALKING for another minute before wrapping up. That was frustrating enough and it’s not even getting into a monologue about potentially sensitive subjects. If someone is really interested in talking about something, they will not always be limited by social convention or loose guidance.

  9. Red 5*

    This is definitely an issue. My work is also adjacent to some of these issues, and their attempts to be neutral backfired into making the workplace feel unsafe for some employees because that neutrality could be taken as acceptance or endorsement. They had to more openly address it head on than they would have liked (and honestly flubbed that too).

    But as a supervisor you have to make those constructive or productive conversations in their right time and place.

    1. cubone*

      Hi it’s cubone and I do this all the time hahahah! I appreciated your take, that’s exactly what I mean … I just have some feelings about the concept of neutrality in community and service spaces that feel inherently… not neutral by nature of their mission? At the same time we all need a break and these things can be really upsetting. I gave an example in a reply to my comment of what the scenario had been at my org that prompted me to reply with this.

  10. BigTenProfessor*

    I’m curious if/how the answer changes if the person bringing them up is the one most affected by the issues. For example, if she’s the only Black woman on the team, and she’s talking about Black Lives Matter, I don’t think it’s necessarily right to shut that down for the comfort of white people.

    1. Littorally*

      Bluntly, even if she’s the most impacted by the issue, it can still be the wrong time or place to discuss it. This doesn’t have to be about catering to the comfort of the oppressor, but rather staying focused on what is germane to the purpose of the meeting.

    2. elizelizeliz*

      I was going to say something along these lines too–it’s also, to me, complicated to group it all into the question of “politics.” I think it’s one thing to go into deep detail about your text-banking for a particular candidate and everything that happened during it, and another thing to use a generic check-in to talk about current events related to your life that have been politicized.

      As a white person, i try to be cognizant of this, and as a queer person whose immediate family is trans, there are things, especially about recent and current attacks on queer and trans community, that feel “political” to others but really personal for me and just shutting it down as political would feel really hard honestly. This isn’t to say that it should come up in every meeting–i think that it’s reasonable to keep emotional personal content out of meetings, too–but that having it labeled and dismissed as “politics” would feel pretty painful. So, i would be conscientious about the framing of it all, even if the end result of “this needs to stop being a meeting topic” is the same.

      1. Olive Hornby*

        Yeah, I agree with this and think using more specific language would help–instead of “we need to stop discussing politics in these meetings,” saying something more like “I’m also really disturbed by the ongoing police violence against black people, but bringing these topics into our check-in meeting can be really upsetting and derailing for folks, and I’d appreciate you keeping those discussions for another venue.”

    3. Analyst Editor*

      “Please, no politics right now in this meeting” – is a completely reasonable ask; it’s not a denial of the weight of issues or a “shut-down”. I don’t think I know anyone, of any color or orientation, who would take it as such.

    4. 10Isee*

      I have a dear friend who is white. Her son was shot and killed by police, only inches from her, because the officer mistook the butter knife in his hand for something more dangerous. She struggles terribly in discussions about officer-involved shootings and was chastised by a coworker for bowing out of a discussion of George Floyd because “white people need to get their heads out of the sand.”

      I’m not trying to deny or downplay the racist realities of the system here, or say that POC don’t deserve to share their needs and be recognized. However, I think it’s important to remember that you may not know by looking at your coworkers what personal connections they might have to a given issue. Allowing people a place safe from such loaded topics, when possible, makes sense and is kind.

      1. allathian*

        In any case, during work meetings, people need to be able to focus on work. This is not the same thing as refusing to acknowledge issues that affect some people in a fundamental way.

    5. OP*

      We are a small team and are all white (definitely its own issue in our particular profession), but I would absolutely want to handle this situation differently if she or anyone else was part of a group being personally impacted by a particular human rights issue that comes up frequently.

      Other folks have brought up the type of work we do and the importance of acknowledging the difference between partisan politics and issues of justice and human rights. We do work in a field and an organization that is concerned with social justice/human rights/environmental issues/etc. and it’s a workplace norm to discuss those things in more water-cooler settings during normal times. I don’t object to this at all—in fact, it’s something I value about my workplace. However, it can be a challenge to draw lines between discussing issues of justice that are germane to our work and workplace and issues that are better left to discuss, rage about, or mourn over in a more personal setting.

  11. Anonnn*

    We also had a person who liked to bring up political stuff as part of their “what I did this weekend” thing and a couple of times it led to shouting and arguing (she was an anti-masker, this did not go over well with coworkers who had lost people to coronavirus and just hadn’t mentioned their losses at work until she persisted in pushing her cause). At one point she was muted by our manager and specifically told to quit talking about that.

    OP don’t let it get that bad. Head it off early.

  12. Anon for a sec*

    I’m a political science professor, so you might think we’d talk about politics at all our work meetings, but we almost never do. It’s probably because we all assume a certain level of expertise among our colleagues, so there’s no need to ‘inform’ anyone about what’s going on. But it’s also that we have a strong professional norm of not imposing our opinions on our students, and that norm also affects how we behave at work generally. We certainly talk about politics in terms of the academic work we’re doing, and about our personal views with our own work friends. But at a department meeting, we mostly just want to get bureaucratic tasks done as quickly as possible. I offer this perspective in case it helps OP make the point that ‘not talking about it here and now’ doesn’t mean ‘we don’t care about it.’ We care about it so much we got PhDs in it, but it’s still not what meetings are about.

  13. Branola*

    I would also urge managers to be careful in labelling certain topics as political. As a person of color, it comes across as dismissive to me when someone states that protests to fight for equal rights for all people is political. I would suggest using language such as “controversial topics” or “topics in the news” instead.

    1. Sam*

      Thank you – this is a great point! Problems like racism, immigration, climate change, and gender/sexual equality aren’t “political” just because some politicians don’t support human rights. I’m going to be more careful with my language around these.

    2. Trillian*

      Absolutely. I signed off a mailing list on a writer’s org I belonged to on International Women’s Day last March when one of the males on it trotted out the ol’ “but why does it have to be so political”?. Nope, not doing this dance again.

    3. Sara without an H*

      Hi, Branola,
      I like “topics in the news” — it’s clear, but doesn’t imply a judgement. While I don’t need it as urgently as the OP, I’m going to file it for future use.

    4. Schuyler Seestra*

      I think I depends on the topic? Yes convos around identity aren’t “political”, but if this person is ranting about the election/current occupant of the White House it’s a problem. Also what is the context of the coworkers rants?

      I’m a black woman who is exhausted from hearing about brutality, about discrimination, about subjugation of black folks. Even from my fellow BIPOC folks. It’s not that I don’t care or that I don’t think those subjects are important. It’s just triggering at this point. It’s frustrating that I have to be further traumatized because white folks have just now realized there are injustices again marginalized people in America. Unless the subject is relevant to work, I really don’t want to talk about it.

      If the coworker was ranting during downtime it’s one thing, but during a meeting is another.

      1. Shirley Keeldar*

        So important…I think it sounds like OP’s coworker might benefit from a reminder that these conversations can be really painful for people who are already the primary victims. Sounds like the ranting might make her feel better, but she’s losing sight of the fact that it might make others feel worse.

    5. noahwynn*

      Very true. I think time and place still applies, but in general it can come across as super dismissive to label all these as “political” like they’re just a disagreement between polictical parties and not true issues.

  14. Sam*

    My workplace has been guilty of this – we work for an organization with a very specific focus that means the vast majority of our otherwise diverse staff agree on a lot of major political issues (because working for us is working for the movement, basically, and those who disagree wouldn’t want to work here). It’s great a lot of the time, and we have had REALLY interesting discussions where others have brought their diverse perspectives to bring issues to light in new ways. Our lunchroom is usually a political place! But these days, with the world what it is, it’s almost too easy to get dragged down into conversations where we all agree everything is awful.

    “Absolutely, let’s get back to work so that we can do our part” can be helpful, if your work even tangentially relates to making the world a better place. Ditto “Agreed, and I think our work can help change the system! Let’s talk about…”

  15. drpuma*

    When we all started working working from home I added a “social standup” to my team’s calendar – an optional 15-minutes once a week that’s explicitly to check in and discuss personal stuff we’d like to share. Depending on your team’s appetite for discussing more personal concerns it may help to give them a once-or twice-weekly outlet explicitly for non-work talk. Our “social standup” is truly optional as well, so folks on your team who don’t want to talk politics or just are particularly busy can opt out. Of course if it would just be your political team member and no one else a different solution is warranted.

    1. allathian*

      I’m not so sure. Maybe that would finally make the political team member shut up, if they realized that nobody wants to listen unless they’re a captive audience.

  16. Junior Dev*

    I want to share my thoughts on a point that often comes up in these conversations, and I’ve seen variations on already in the comments.

    “It’s a privilege to say ‘I don’t want to talk about politics at work,’ because some people’s lives are politicized.” (Examples: mentioning a same sex spouse, talking about healthcare or immigration issues that are affecting your family)

    And this is true, but it’s also true that it’s a privilege to be able to discuss or debate things in an abstract or detached way, or to hear this talk without being upset and distracted by it because of the way the issues impact you.

    Recent example: I left some work Slack channels that were posting about legal challenges to gay marriage not because I don’t care, but because as a lesbian I find it deeply upsetting and that makes it hard to concentrate on work. I’ve recently had to do a lot of pruning of the discussion groups I am at at work and made a conscious decision to only do social/political activism and discussion outside work, because that is where I’m most effective and it’s an important boundary for my mental health.

    There’s this tendency in social justice culture that I’ve noticed to insist that everyone should be an activist, and that activism should be involved in all areas of a person’s life, and it’s like…sometimes, as a person affected by the issues, you just need a break, you just need to watch the trashy TV show and not worry about the stereotypes it’s reinforcing, you just need to spend time with your loved ones and not hash out every awful thing that’s happened in the news this week. Making every part of your life all activism all the time is a great way to burn out, strain your relationships with others, and lose perspective on which actions are actually effective.

    1. Daniel*

      This hit home for me.

      I haven’t put up a full news embargo, but I have trimmed way back on *where* I am getting my news…

    2. Jackalope*

      I feel this so much too. I’ve been involved in social activism and nonprofits for a couple of decades now, including 7 years of working for nonprofits, a lot of volunteering, calling my congressional reps, going to town halls and speaking to my reps in person, etc. I’ve done my best. And sometimes I get tired, and can absolutely just not handle the way the patriarchy tends to ruin everything (even more than pandemics!), or whatever the issue might be. As Junior Dev said, it’s hard because I can’t have an unemotional response to sexism and then move on. There’s so much to be done but sometimes I need to just read YA fantasy novels, or pet the cats while staring at the ceiling, or (relevant to the OP) just talk about work at work and the numbers on the latest llama grooming reports. The view of social activism that she gave is spot on – one feels like one should always do more, but that’s so exhausting.

    3. Spearmint*

      Yep, and also some of the stuff that gets labeled “activism” really isn’t activism at all. Is obsessively discussing every single social justice-related news event with your coworkers *really* doing anything to help marginalized people? Or does it just distract and upset them without leading to any real activism? (Spoiler: it’s probably the latter)

    4. But There is a Me in Team*

      You have put my nebulous feelings concisely Junior Dev, thank you. I imagine even MLK or Ghandi just sat and had dinner with the fam once in a while. I think someone else commented, but I can’t find it, that we have a tendency to mistake talk for action in this country. I’d rather write my congresswoman than tweet and slap on bumper stickers. Some people probably have the energy for both (good for them!) but it’s also very easy to just slap a sign in your yard and wash your hands of the harder work.

    5. cncx*

      yup, this is where i’m at, i do a lot of stuff outside of work that is adjacent to immigrant/minority stuff and stuff is just deeply upsetting and you know, sometimes i too just want to go to work and get my paycheck. Boundaries, like you said. I get the whole privilege thing but exactly like you said- it’s also a privilege to be able to discuss something theoretically. I also have a coworker who holds some views that are distasteful to me personally and like, I’m also better off not knowing the extent to which he feels that way. My vibe is “let’s all get paid in the most painless way possible thank u”

    6. some dude*

      I’m a ciswhite dude, but I feel similarly – I try to be engaged and contribute and fight where and how I can, but I am raw, and I can’t even read a story that has too much conflict in it at this point because everything feels so awful. the one blessing about SIP is that I’m not having to constantly hear my colleagues kvetch about this or that political thing, most of which I can do nothing about and all of which gives me massive anxiety. I’m not talking about going “la la la” and fiddling while rome burns, but I have to take a break so I don’t just shut down.

  17. Kevin Sours*

    In this specific instance you are overthinking it. It’s a standup. You should be ruthlessly culling any off topic discussion up to and including overly detailed work related discussions. Standups are venues for communicating problems, not solving them. I wouldn’t even address the politics here at all, just keep the meeting focused.

    Some things I do:
    * I lead off with my own report to the team. That allows me to jump into things without preamble and gives me additional standing for just cutting off chit chat if it happens to start.
    * I call people in turn to give their reports. This provides a natural ability to jump in if somebody is done but doesn’t stop talking (we all do this from time to time). Either calling the next person at a useful pause or asking “Anything else” if I’m not entirely certain.
    * Phrases such as “let’s discuss that offline” or “let’s not get into the weeds here” can help. I might add something like “this really isn’t appropriate for this meeting” for things further afield.

    If nudges don’t work, have a discussion with here about the need to keep the standup brisk and ask her to keep focused. But really for a standup to be effective you *have* to keep it moving even at the expense of coming across as heavy handed.

    1. Tau*

      This, 100%. I’m also from an environment that has stand ups and… nobody should be talking about anything not immediately work-related in one. Stand-up updates should be a minute tops and solely confined to talking about what work thing you’re doing and any potential blockers or things that could affect others, and you have to ruthlessly stomp on any deviations from that because otherwise the whole thing gets torturous. The fact that in this case, the off-topic talk is political is a red herring.

      1. Kevin Sours*

        I will allow up to five minutes of discussion in an update if it’s something worth the teams time. I find it can be useful to dispense with issues that can be resolved trivially without a separate meeting and, failing that, a few minute of discussion can help sort out who needs to talk to whom efficiently.

        But no more than 5

        1. Tau*

          Yeah, if a legit discussion around a potential blocker develops I can see that going for a few minutes! But the monologue “here is what I am doing and how it affects the rest of you” part really should be under a minute.

          …I am unreasonably angry about OP’s post and I think it’s because my stand-up has over ten people and we have had major problems with people giving nitty-gritty detailed updates on everything they did yesterday and are planning to do today that are irrelevant to everyone else. If people started talking about things that aren’t even related to work I would probably start yelling incoherently at my screen.

    2. Coco*

      Yes. Very much this. Explicitly state the time limit and remind people what they should be discussing ( issues, what they completed, etc). If you want to give people a moment to be social, make sure it is not mandatory – some people don’t want to talk about their personal life – and if people are going over, interrupt and say you have to keep the meeting moving. After a few interruptions, people will get it. But it isn’t fair to the rest of the team who is held hostage by the one person.

      1. Kevin Sours*

        If you want to give people a moment to be social, have a Zoom happy hour. Standups are not the place for it.

    3. OP*

      Thanks for the advice! I am working on getting our focus back to the original quick update, no-frills format of a good, productive standup. I’ve started being more intentional about leading off and steering the meeting from the get-go, but the main issue is that sometimes not everyone logs in at exactly the same time. When that happens inevitably more personal discussion starts up while tech lags and the like resolve. I am trying to be more direct and firm about keeping us on-topic, but that can feel very stilted and cold once a tough or emotional topic is in play. Per Alison’s recommendation I think a personal conversation about not bringing those things up before meetings is very helpful to the overall issue of making sure daily standups are effective.

  18. Emi.*

    > “I really appreciate .. the thoughtful way you’ve shared updates with the team”

    I get that Alison likes to give non-confrontational scripts that are easier to use but I think this is a bit much. She’s not being thoughtful here and I worry that soft-pedaling it this much will mean the message doesn’t come through.

  19. Web Crawler*

    My work has a Slack channel for news/politics/history to keep it out of everywhere else. Because it’s helpful to be able to talk about stuff that affects you, but it’s also helpful to be able to avoid it, and not everyone is subscribed to that Slack channel.

    1. Kiss Me I'm Irish*

      Slack is such a time-waster, and this is a prime example. What on earth are people doing arguing about politics, recipes, pets, or whatever during working hours? You’re being paid to work, not argue on social media.

      1. Metadata minion*

        Do you never have non-work discussions with your coworkers? It’s totally fine if you want to keep things completely private, but that level of compartmentalization is pretty unusual. Hearing about people’s pets/weekend/dinner plans/whatever helps me get to know my coworkers and their personalities and that in tern helps me interact with them more effectively in work contexts.

  20. ThisColumnMakesMeThankfulForMyBoss*

    I keep politics and religion out of work. I do not want to discuss either topic with colleagues and I don’t feel it’s appropriate in the work place. If you’re in a small informal group and can have a civil discussion about either, that’s great. But it shouldn’t be talked about regularly in meetings, especially when you don’t know how others feel about the subject. You need to speak up and you need to do it ASAP. I’m surprised nobody else on the team has spoken to you about it, but it would make me want to nope right out of those meetings.

  21. WantonSeedStitch*

    I think that a lot of people are spot-on in that it’s hard sometimes to draw the line between “political” and other controversial topics, and I feel like both need to be dealt with in different ways. My own line on political stuff is “I don’t want to see or hear stuff recommending people vote a certain way on a certain candidate or ballot question.” I pointed that out to one of my reports a couple years ago when they put up a sign on their cube in support of a certain pro-LGBTQ+ ballot question. I reminded this person that if we allowed that, we’d have to allow someone else to put up a sign AGAINST that ballot question–and that if they did, it would potentially create a hostile environment for someone who was LGBTQ+. The person understood and took it down. By contrast, many of us have cards up that were distributed by a group within our workplace that have a rainbow flag and say “You Are Welcome Here.” I feel that’s not a political statement, but rather a statement of values that are actively espoused by our workplace (a university).

    I think that the idea that talking about seriously controversial subjects can be draining and difficult for people *even if they are in agreement with the speaker* is an important one. I’ve been in small meetings with groups of people who all shared the same point of view on various issues of racial justice, for example, but some folks have different thresholds for how much of an upsetting topic they can tolerate without it causing problems for them. I think the whole “let’s not talk about this now unless it’s relating to our work because it’s a sensitive subject and we don’t want people to feel like they have to sit and listen to a discussion that may upset them” approach is good. That said, I would want to be careful NOT to stifle discussion of those kinds of issues and how they relate to our workplace. (Are our parental leave policies worded in a way that is not friendly to trans people? Does our organization have a tendency to hire PoC only for lower-ranking roles?) because those discussions are how a workplace improves itself.

  22. Angelina*

    I am involved in politics in the UK. I keep it separate from my work as far as I can. Maybe not having the physical act of walking through the door and putting their work hat on is making it hard for this person to separate their other life from their job. To the OP I would say that you need to safeguard yourself here as the conversations could end up getting out of hand. Controversial comments could end up being made that you will then have to deal with. What if a team member starts to feel uncomfortable but feels that you are sympathetic to the activist and goes to your boss? If you are in the US use the forthcoming elections as the reason to wind this up now.

  23. AnonFromWork*

    Yes! This is key.

    Daily meetings – for any subject and any length of time – can be rough. It may seem like 5-10 minutes is trivial, but it adds up when you do this every day. I think if you approach it from that angle – i.e., let’s not spend any more time here than we need to – you’ll have fewer objections.

  24. Emi*

    One of the things I really like about working for the feds is that the Hatch Act encourages a low-politics culture even to the point of avoiding things that don’t violate the Hatch Act.

    1. Anonymooz.*

      This is an insightful point, and I quite agree. I hear about folks pets and kids a lot, as well as TV and podcasts and stuff to do in the area. The casual chat – as a result – feels light and pleasant. Heavier-hitting topics (e.g., critiques of literature or psychotherapy) are something I get to enjoy with book clubs and certain friends where the space is carved out specifically for that.

  25. That Girl from Quinn's House*

    I had a lot of teen employees during the run up to the 2016 election and this was becoming a friction point because some of them were so politically active at work and with our customers. And we had a very diverse set of staff and customers, so we had people who were a) supporting each candidate and b) who would suffer direct harm if the opposing candidate won. There was no way to make everyone happy.

    Finally I said, “Look, the issues in this year’s election are all very personal issues that closely affect us. And when you share your political opinion in a conversation, you’re giving someone else permission to share their opinion back, and you may not like what their opinion is. It could even be deeply hurtful or offensive, given some of the issues on the table this year. Your opinion might also be deeply hurtful or offensive to someone else. So please, let’s not discuss politics, and if someone brings it up or starts asking you questions, change the subject. If they bring it up in a way that you feel is intended to be threatening or harassment, notify a manager and file an incident report and we will deal with it at the management level.”

    It did help.

    1. But There is a Me in Team*

      I like this as well. You just never know who you’re talking to. My workplace is EXTREMELY political, tenfold more than other places I’ve worked. There’s an assumption that everyone agrees. If you don’t, you have to decide if you’re going to put THAT out there or go along with implied agreement, which makes people talk to you about it even more. I mostly agree, which is why I don’t want to spend work time thinking about it more. Or staff meetings start 15-20 mins late, or go over by that much, while people rant about how they are voting, how bad this guy or that guy is. I’ve occasionally said “If there’s nothing else work related, I’m going to log off/head back to my office now.” Management are the worst perpetrators, though, so nothing to be done about it.

  26. Sharrbe*

    I’m all for replacing political discussions with cat discussions. And pictures. And videos. And stories. And cat introductions via Zoom.

  27. Magnolia*

    I would be reluctant to dictate what types of content can be shared in updates – because what is “political” to someone else (e.g. privilege groups) may be personal to others (e.g. oppressed groups). A safer route might be using a check in question that is built for quick responses*, and then modeling the kind of response you want so people understand desired level of detail and length.

    Managing domineering personalities wasn’t identified as a need, but I wonder if any of those broad tips would apply in this limited case.

    *There are lists of these kind of questions online. Some are duds, so you’ll have to be judicious in selecting them. But the teams I’ve led have loved those check in questions because they allow team members to share interesting bits about themselves and learn more about peers that wouldn’t come up in traditional conversation.

  28. anon attorney*

    I share the discomfort some have expressed about excluding “political” topics from work discussion, especially if the political context has an impact on the work. But this is a daily check in. It needs to be short short short. If I was subjected to a daily status meeting, I wouldn’t necessarily care if the co-worker was talking a lot about politica or about her cats or the color of the frosting on cupcakes – if she was doing any of it for more than 1 minute, she’d be doing it for too long.

  29. pleaset AKA cheap rolls*

    ” I reminded this person that if we allowed that, we’d have to allow someone else to put up a sign AGAINST that ballot question”


  30. Jane*

    Re: the political team member- I have been both the person who talks about politics too much and the person who wants it to stop – and may have a helpful perspective on this.

    I strongly recommend asking her to reign it in – but recommend a slightly different angle.

    As someone who belongs to a couple groups that feel threatened by the current political crisis – to the point of ptsd from the last election – it can be really hard to be around coworkers talking politics, even when we have identical political beliefs.

    At work, I need to keep it together. And in order to have bandwidth to engage with politics myself, in addition to life and work, I largely avoid political conversations at work.

    It can be hard for me to be around coworkers who don’t do this. I’ve done it to others, and have some regrets about that- but we all get it wrong sometimes.

    I still engage in some political conversations at work, but anything on the frequency the OP is describing is not fair to the person’s coworkers – who may literally be contemplating the impossibility of fleeing the country when the borders are closed, or legitimately questioning whether they would survive a fascist coup or contemplating the recent or impending death of close family members.

    1. Paperwhite*

      I’m glad you made this its own comment — I might have missed it otherwise, and I very much agree. The stressfulness of politics can make it inimical in multiple ways to getting one’s work done.

  31. Full Stack Dev*

    I feel like this hasn’t been mentioned much yet, but one person talking about politics opens up the floor for everyone to talk about politics. I personally avoid discussions of politics at work is I don’t want to know what my coworkers believe.

    If I hear about how Bob from accounting thinks that ‘All Lives Matter’ or Jane from product believes ‘antifa is a terrorist group’, it changes my opinion of them and as someone who tends to get very emotional when discussing these issues, will make me either shut down or start a fight that isn’t appropriate for work. My manager and I got into a fight about covid near the beginning of the pandemic and it left me emotionally raw for a few hours. I also work with a lot of men who love to play devil’s advocates and argue these issues in the abstract because they don’t personally affect them, which can be extremely frustrating.

    Even if you’re not bothered by/willing to push back on those types of comments, not everyone on the team will be. Unless you know you’re preaching to the choir, I’ve found the best way to not have to listen to coworker’s hot takes is just to ban all discussions of politics.

    1. Paperwhite*

      personally avoid discussions of politics at work is I don’t want to know what my coworkers believe.

      This is a very good point. I used to work somewhere where the majority of, or at least the loudest of my coworkers, had opposing politics to mine, and that did make it harder to cooperate with them on our duties. I kept thinking, “they would rather my friends not exist. They would rather I die.”

      (OTOH it’s difficult for me to say “I want to avoid discussions of politics at work” in a country that has made basic science and people’s existences into political issues. If I wear a mask into many places I’m seen as making a political statement. So what are the boundaries of ‘politics’?)

  32. Sarah in CO*

    After having a heart attack, I have been sent to group physical therapy. Every other person in my “class” is an older (65+), white male and I know at least one of them has a much different political viewpoint from mine. Thankfully, yesterday, the physical therapist mentioned that since stress is a huge underlying cause of heart problems, and politics can be a huge cause of stress, politics of any sort were not allowed in the room. So maybe point out that in the interest of health, both mental and physical, politics are henceforth verboten during work hours.

  33. Quinalla*

    I think it depends, if there are other venues for people to talk about these things in, then yes I think it is completely reasonable. If someone is feeling they can’t bring this stuff up anywhere, that’s when people start to feel shut down.

    I was distressed for awhile about #Metoo not being brought up in any way at my company or professional originations I belonged to. They did finally make statements, etc., but I seriously wasn’t going to bring it up myself in a male-dominated industry. I have talked to black men and women who feel extremely awkward, angry, etc. when police kill another black person and no one at their nearly all-white workplace even mentions it.

    So I get the whole time and place argument and I agree that it sounds like the OP needs to shunt this somewhere else for sure, but do think that it needs to be done thoughtfully and giving that person another outlet as feeling shut-down or even pre-shut-down where you don’t even try to speak up is definitely a thing.

  34. CRM*

    Thanks for being so thoughtful about this, Alison and OP!

    We had a similar problem when the pandemic began, our monthly team meetings were being hijacked by personal/political conversation. My boss realized that some people were missing the office interaction (we’ve all been remote since the very beginning, and will continue to be for the foreseeable future), so she added a 30-minute “lunch” meeting to occur before the team meeting. The lunch session is optional, and folks can discuss whatever they want. At 1pm everyone has to join the work meeting, which is all business. The people that want the space to discuss personal topics can join the lunch session, and the people that would rather remain focused on work can simply join for the work meeting at 1pm. It also creates a good distinction between when to discuss personal topics and when to discuss work, so there is no need to worry about finding a smooth transition from a deeply emotional topic to the monthly llama wrangling report.

  35. JSPA*

    “Today, we’re going to invert the process, and start with 100%-work-specific check-ins. That way, we can cover all the essentials and respect the time of people who need to hop off. If you don’t have a work update, just say ‘pass.’ At the end, I’ll leave the session up for an additional 15 minutes for anyone who wants to grab a coffee and do another 20 minutes going around the table for brief updates on personal goals, activism, and work-life balance.”

    IMO, days when there’s not much to report, people go long on the external stuff, as an implied explanation for why there’s been no movement on their part of the project, or simply to fill dead air, or because “whooooops, looks like my 3 minutes is more than up, guess I’ll have to tell you about the project next time.”

    (Let she who has never done this cast the first stone; I’ll be standing in the pebble pile. Yes, I know it’s obvious–and annoying.)

    1. Kiss Me I'm Irish*

      Why are you wasting 20 minutes of the day (about 4% of the day) on personal goals, activism, and work-life balance?

      That is ripping time off from your donors (if you’re a nonprofit) or shareholders (if you’re a for profit).

      1. Keymaster of Gozer*

        In fairness you can’t have people 100% focused on work 100% of the day. One place I was at tried banning any and all non work conversations during working hours in the office.

        A lot of us quit.

        1. allathian*

          This is true, but 20 minutes per day of scheduled, if optional, non-work chat is a lot. We have a coffee half-hour on Friday afternoons for informal non-work chats. But just like real coffee breaks, we sometimes end up talking about work…

      2. Anguine*

        Because discussing those things facilitates richer, stronger connections among colleagues, which enables them to be more productive and effective in working together in other contexts.

        Or to put it another way, because you work with people, not robots.

      3. JSPA*

        1. Because people are organisms, not mechanical cogs.

        2. Because, in a normal office, people spend 20 minutes, over the course of a day or two, in small increments, catching up with each other and checking in with each other and looking at each other as fellow human beings, not only as means to an end.

        3. Because in a team of 5 people, this is literally 4 minutes of “not work, but my status could be work relevant” per person.

        4. Because it makes sense to create a space for shared problems to surface, even if they are only work-adjacent, not work. If four people chime in on how bad their shoulders are getting, that stops being an individual thing, and starts being “how can work better support your WFH ergonomic needs” issue.

        5. Because this is OPTIONAL.

  36. employment lawyah*

    If your employees want to socialize and you want to let them, then allow them to do so AFTER the meeting ends–leave the Zoom room open. This lets the other folks beg off and leave. You don’t need to allow socialization during a mandatory meeting. They have only “predictably, gotten a little more social and longer than normal” because you are allowing it; there is nothing predictable about it.

    My general feeling is that you can always make a work meeting strictly about work. That would, FWIW, probably solve 1/3 of all complaints I ever hear. And there are other side benefits: If you have time to shoot the shit about politics in meetings, you’re not running efficient meetings anyway and you’re probably wasting everyone’s time. I mean, if you think it makes YOU annoyed, imagine what it must feel like to have to wake up early and rush to get your hair combed and get into a meeting, only to realize that you could have had a coffee first because “_____ is talking about ____ again.” And it’s even worse if they don’t agree with _____: even people who are in broad agreement about justice can wildly differ on things like pros/cons of violence in protests, pros/cons of targeting individuals, pros/cons of specific platform demands, etc.

    So my $0.02:

    1) Does this directly have to do with the meeting topic which you put on the agenda? (You DO use agendas, right?)
    2) If not is it one of the basic approved icebreakers normal to business formalities?

    If not move on, and talk about it on your private time. IMO this is the only thing you can reasonably do which will keep people from arguing about the subject matter. Want to promote BLM? Private time. Want to promote BLUELM? Private time. Etc.

  37. Is it nap time yet?*

    I think most of us are burned out. I just can’t stand to hear another story of a terrible thing that has happened. You can’t avoid it of course, but it really, really disrupts my day if it starts in the morning. Plus I have a few coworkers who over share minor inconveniences and think it’s the end of the world moment …. too many zucchini, cat doesn’t feel well, dog peed inside …. it makes it hard to concentrate on work, and it makes it hard to know what is or isn’t important anymore. Even buying a loaf of bread feels like a life-or-death decision now. Our solution was to only meet twice a week. And I usually stay muted unless I have to participate.

    1. Keymaster of Gozer*

      I made the decision during this year to not read, listen to or follow the news at all for now. I literally don’t want to know. Can’t deal with it.

  38. Utility gal*

    My take on this is NO. No personal discussions at all. I absolutely abhor “how was your weekend” and other personal comments at work. I am at work to work. There’s a mission and we complete it. In the name of accommodating people with different personalities I will put up with the “how was your weekend”. ” Did you watch the game?” Or whatever…but every syllable is torture. Please let’s not make remote working even worse than in person working by encouraging more sharing. Just sign me tech gal

    1. allathian*

      Oh dear. We always seem to get at least one post like this.

      I’m a human, not a robot. I really enjoy knowing my coworkers on a personal, but not too private, level. The sort of superficial level where it’s easier to relate to coworkers as people rather than cogs in a machine. If at all possible, for me the optimum would be to share what we have in common and still be able to ignore any issues that might cause conflict, because we wouldn’t discuss them. The risk here is the illusion of togetherness because pretty much everyone thinks everyone else is like they are (except for visible physical characteristics), unless people feel safe enough to share their differences.

    2. bluephone*

      Wow, that is …. a lot to unpack here. Look, in all honestly…have you considered that maybe being an actual hermit (a la the 1700s when rich people would pay for someone to be a hermit in a cave on their estate) is the better career choice for you? Because I doubt your coworkers aren’t aware of how much “torture” they’re putting you through by…just being a human in the workplace. And frankly, it’s not fair to them to walk on eggshells around you because they had the GALL and audacity to ask you how your weekend was.

    3. Beancounter Eric*

      Very well said.

      The company I work for exists to create wealth for its investors; it does not exist to serve as a social outlet for its employees.

  39. Elspeth McGillicuddy*

    I don’t think you can have a diverse group of people who agree on EVERYTHING. Maybe if you have a small group of people where everybody is very very very similar they can agree broadly on the most important issues, but even then they’d have differences of opinion. Maybe they agree that A, B and C are the most important issues, but one thinks A by far the most important, and another thinks C is. Maybe everybody thinks that D is awful and should be fixed, but disagree on how to do that.

    So should they argue about it at work? Should some shut up and listen to the others? If so, which ones? I suppose theoretically you could have a polite, sane debate, but we all know it’s not a realistic option.

    And that’s without considering that if you hire a bunch of people who all think alike, you are likely to run into group think issues. You want people who have different perspectives, backgrounds, and values, and that means that you are going to necessarily have people who disagree.

    1. allathian*

      That’s true, but the point is to stick to reasonably non-controversial topics where any disagreements aren’t profound enough to permanently damage working relationships. Such topics can be hard to find with some people, though. That said, I think that we as a society have lost the ability to agree to disagree. Sure, some issues are such that it’s hard to see any commonalities with a person who holds the opposing view, but that shouldn’t be every issue.

      In my country, there’s a populist right-wing party that got about 25 percent of the vote in our last general election. Realistically speaking, I’m sure that some of my coworkers support that party, but if so, I don’t want to know. If I did know for sure, it would definitely change my opinion about them as a person, so I’d much rather not know.

  40. The Rules are Made Up*

    I think Allison’s script here: “I really appreciate your commitment to social justice and the thoughtful way you’ve shared updates with the team. I want to ask that you hold it back from our morning meetings, though. These can be hard and emotional issues for people right now, even when they agree, and it can be difficult to shift gears back to work afterward.” Would probably be the best bet.

    Race wasn’t alluded to in the letter but I will say that some of the other script suggestions that made it more personal rather than team focused i.e “It’s a hard topic for me…I’d be grateful to focus on anything else!” would come across VERY differently if the OP is white saying it to a POC who likely cannot compartmentalize the way their white coworkers can on some of the issues (like police brutality). And pick and choose when to “not think about” those issues. It’s probably best to stick to a “time and place” convo rather than a “I don’t want to think about these things” convo. Like, I don’t want to think about it either but it’s a part of my existence so I don’t have a choice. I just know that if a white coworker told me (a BW) that me talking about politics/protesting/police brutality was draining for THEM… I…. wouldn’t receive it well. Even though I agree it’s a lot first thing in the morning lol. It can still come across very “Ugh why does everything have to be about race can we change the topic please” even if the OP didn’t intend that and even agrees with her. So I’d tread super lightly with that particular wording.

  41. Roeslein*

    I’m not in the US, but as someone who doesn’t have a political home (meaning at least some of my views are anathema to just about everyone on the political spectrum), I find that pretty much everyone left, right and centre tends to assume I’m “on their side” – but just because I happen to agree with you on topic X (say, European federalism) doesn’t mean I also agree with you on topics Y and Z! For some reason that’s really difficult for people to understand, so I end up trapped in a lot of uncomfortable political discussions. My point is, please don’t just assume that your co-workers agree with everything this person says – they might just be too uncomfortable to speak up.

    1. Roeslein*

      (Of course I mean that different sets of views are anathema to different sets of people, not that I hold some kind of universally abhorred opinions – I don’t actually believe anything particularly controversial in the grand scheme of things, it’s just scary admitting to being the person who hasn’t chosen sides these days!)

  42. Junior Assistant Peon*

    I always suspected that my Facebook friends who scream about politics 24/7 probably also hijack work meetings to rant and rave!

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