Q: My colleague wants to talk politics, but I really want to avoid it in the workplace regardless of his or my views. We have a good working relationship, but he isn’t taking gentle hints. What’s a good respectful way to ask him to stop? I would prefer not to take it to management if I can avoid it.
A: The election is over, but political conversation can be never-ending. Not wanting to discuss sensitive topics that you know will result in some conflict with your coworkers is a smart position to take. You have a good working relationship and you’d like to keep that way, so why you think gentle hints are the appropriate mode of communicating with him is something you might want to think more about.
Being respectful is always important and I applaud your desire not to go to management if you haven’t had a direct conversation with him first. Letting a colleague know that you don’t want to discuss politics, money, religion, gossip, or any other potentially contentious topics puts you in a position where you very clearly want to put boundaries on the conversations at work. Instead, try to have conversations about your weekend activities, someone’s children or family, work topics, sports (if you do it peacefully), and other potentially non-confrontational topics.
Some people may believe that you are putting your head in the sand, avoiding talking about what’s going on in the world today, but you’ve made a conscious decision that this is not the population that you want to have those conversations with. When it comes to professional activities, often companies and management will have policies in place limiting political-based events such as fundraising for political or religious causes. They may also restrict selling goods or services to sponsor religious or political organizations. The decisions are all focused on maintaining a professional and collegial work environment.
You need to make your request clear and people need to honor that request. There are likely many others like you with feelings more similar to yours, and may choose to align themselves with your boundaries. Those who feel they must argue about the topics of the day will find each other, but you don’t need to be part of that group.
After a direct but cordial conversation, if your boundaries are not respected, then that would be an appropriate time to take this issue to management. You can provide your colleague with a warning first by saying, “You continue to have these conversations with me that I really don’t want to have.” Next, you may need to remove yourself from the situation; you can do this by changing the topic or putting an end to the phone call. Then, if these things continue to affect your work capabilities or your comfort at work, that’s the time to go to management or human resources to talk about the position that your colleague is putting you in.