Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., left, and Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., the ranking member, confer as the panel meets on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Jan. 29, 2019. A planned vote on William P. Barr’s nomination to serve as President Donald Trump’s attorney general has been delayed for a week amid concerns by Democrats. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)ASSOCIATED PRESS
Your coworker constantly talks about politics – in his cubicle; in your cubicle; in the office lobby; during a staff meeting; even in the office bathroom. He displays political paraphernalia in his cubicle. He wears polo shirts with a political logo. It never ends. If you are fed up with your coworker’s political talk, you are not alone. A 2016 survey by the American Psychological Association found that one out of four employees feel stressed by political talk at work, resulting in a decrease in productivity.
How do you get this behavior to stop, and restore some peace into your work day? First, look at why your coworker keeps bringing up politics. While it never excuses the behavior, it does help you see the root cause of it. And that can help you plan how to stop his repetitive behavior.
He May Be Socially Unaware
Some people just do not “get it”. They go through life in a type of social bubble, where they don’t care about the impact of their behaviors on others. They also appear oblivious to the non-verbal awkwardness and irritation of their coworkers. Some of this social unawareness could be the result of tuning in more to digital devices than to conversation (Turkle, 2016). However, it is not up to you to socially educate your coworker.
He May Be Trying To Get A Reaction
It is possible that your coworker enjoys provoking people. Your coworker has probably already used other “hot button” topics to get people riled up or at least uncomfortable in his office. He knows that the more extreme the political views are, the easier it is for him to get coworkers upset. It’s an odd kind of “one-upsmanship”. Your coworker may seek control and power over others by subjecting them to behavior that they find rude or offensive.
He May Be Trying to Sabotage You
Your coworker may feel such a strong sense of competition with you that he will do anything t0 get you out of his department – or out of the company entirely. Your coworker may be bringing up politics simply because he wants you to lose your cool. It’s even more of an advantage to him if you lose your cool in front of other coworkers or a supervisor. He then will go to your coworkers and supervisor and tell them that he feels you are emotionally unstable. This type of manipulation scheme is favored by gaslighters, who can tend to have narcissistic or sociopathic personalities.
He May Be Trying to Get Converts
There is an unwritten rule that there are three things you do not bring up in conversation at the workplace: politics, religion, and sex. Your coworker may either be not aware of this unwritten rule, or he does not care. He may be so passionate about his political views that he is trying to find people to align with (especially if his views are extreme), or he is trying to convert people to his way of political thinking. By trying to convert coworkers to his political views, he is working towards two goals: first, he truly believes you will be happier if you believe what he believes in; and second, he wants to have more people at the office like him. He thinks that if there are others with his views at the office, he will not a social outcast.
Now let’s talk about ways to get this behavior to stop.
Set Firm Boundaries
Have you told your coworker very clearly that you do not want to talk about politics (or listen to it)? You may have shied away from bringing it up because you don’t like confrontation, or because you don’t want to get on your coworker’s bad side. (You do have a valid point there – if someone is that vocal about something not office-related, it’s possible they may overreact to you setting boundaries. However, it is important to tell your coworker very clearly that you are not interested in talking about, or listening to, his political views. If your coworker responds with, “Well you just don’t want to face the truth,” restate that you do not want to discuss politics in the office. If you have other coworkers that are also fed up with the political talk, have them also join you in setting firm boundaries with your coworker.
Write down how you established clear boundaries with your coworker, including direct quotes, and the date and time. Write down every subsequent interaction when your coworker brings up politics, and document every subsequent time you set a firm boundary. Keep this information on a device that is not owned by your employer. If you are fired and are required to hand in your laptop or phone immediately, the information on those devices is now out of your hands.
Do Not Give Him A Payoff
As you read earlier, your coworker may be trying to get a rise out of you, as a way to sabotage you or just for his own personal satisfaction. Do not give him a “payoff” for his behavior. Calmly state, “That is not appropriate, and I want you to stop talking about it”. You have made your position clear, in a firm, non-punitive way.
Consider That You Are Being Harassed
If your coworker is bringing up his political views on immigration and he knows that you recently arrived from another country, or uses a derogatory word to refer to your culture or race, you are being harassed. Harassment is defined by the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission as “unwelcome conduct that is based on race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy), national origin, age (40 or older), disability or genetic information.” Harassment becomes illegal when enduring this conduct is required for you to stay at your job, if your work environment becomes “intimidating, hostile, or abusive” (EEOC, 2018).
Seek Legal Remedies
If you feel that your coworker’s political talk constitutes harassment, contact an attorney for a consultation. Check your employee manual for the proper procedure for filing a grievance. If you don’t have a anti-harassment policy at your workplace, ask your attorney what steps you can take.
Seek A Transfer or Employment Elsewhere
If your coworker is within his rights when bringing up politics in the workplace, and your employer has not been helpful (particularly if he shares the same political views), consider transferring to another office. You also have the option of finding another job. Is that fair to you? No. Could it be necessary for your well-being? Yes.