Agreeing to Disagree
January 12, 2004 5:17 PM   Subscribe

I work with people who have certain views that I find reprehensible, (not just disagree with, but find inimical,) but are otherwise decent people. How do I deal with them when they voice these views? I want to remain true to my principles, but not be combative. [More Inside]

I don't think the content of these views is necessarily relevant, but if someone needs to me to elaborate before giving advice, I can do that through email. I want to express my dissent from their views, while not alienating them or making my job unbearable. So far I've been keeping my mouth generally shut, and trying to blend in. It often leads to my feeling disgusted with myself and my coworkers, but I can't afford to quit my job yet, and as I stated, they are otherwise pretty decent people. Any advice on how to deal with this situation would be appreciated.
posted by Snyder to Human Relations (21 answers total)
What country are you in, what size is the company?

Is it within their job description that they make these views known? I don't see how we can answer the question without more information. Are you opposed to abortion yet working at an abortion clinic, or is your boss telling you you suck because you're a minority. Pretty different situations.
posted by rhyax at 5:27 PM on January 12, 2004

Snyder: I hear you, man. I've been there myself a few times. What I generally do is find non-political topics to talk about and forge common ground, which generally keeps things copacetic (and non-political). There are plenty of things to like about with people that don't involve politics. It could be interests, hobbies, what kind of foods or books or films they like. That sort of thing. And besides, it's not as if you're required to be completely friendly with them. This is after all a gig that you don't necessarily have to take home with you.

But the more you connect with them (hopefully with success) on these other levels, the more you'll find they're not so bad and the more likely you'll avoid the topics you can't stand. Even if you find their politics reprehensible, you may be surprised at how similar your respective views are on other matters.

Case in point: My roommate is a registered Republican. I'm hard left. But we get along fine. We even manage to talk politics sometimes without ripping each other's throats out.

Give people the benefit of the doubt, and don't go out of your way to hate them. That's the best advice I can offer.
posted by ed at 5:29 PM on January 12, 2004

What you need to address is what expressing dissent would actually get you. Are you being drawn into uncomfortable situations by being quiet because others assume you agree? Are you looking for a chance to sway or expand their thinking? If the answers to these are no, I would say that keeping your mouth shut is actually probably a noble and generous thing. Just because you have strong principles doesn't mean that they have to be aired. Saying something that doesn't need to be said isn't necessarily a sign of weakness -- speaking to hear yourself speak and defending your principles can be weakness and insecurity too.
If, after consideration, you decide that speaking up is necessary then I favor the short and cheerful, oh we disagree on that fact but the water in this cooler is really good isn't it.
posted by dness2 at 5:38 PM on January 12, 2004

I guess it depends on what your relationship with these people is, what it is that you're disagreeing about, and how important it is in the grand scheme that you let them know you disagree. In the past, I've tended to be humourous about disagreements with co-workers, since I find it really hard to stay quiet when I REALLY disagree with someone. If you're nice and decent, and voice your disagreement with humour, manners and good grace, there's no reason you should have a problem...unless the disagreement is about religion or something. Remember that you don't have to tell them that they're wrong, just that you don't agree with them, it's a somewhat subtle distinction, but it can make a real difference to the way you approach things.
posted by biscotti at 5:46 PM on January 12, 2004

Somehow I am sensing this may be on issues of race. How I deal with it in these sorts of situations is total silence, changing subjects or walking away. In other words, showing displeasure subtly without starting something that would affect your job.

I have had to deal with family members telling racist jokes-they have finally learned they are not to do that around me, and those are the tactics I used with them. I think I would probably be stronger around casual or social friends, but when you work with them or are related to them it is smart to tread a bit lightly.

Whatever it is, you are to be commended for not wanting to just go along with whatever it is just to fit in.
posted by konolia at 5:54 PM on January 12, 2004

It is a huge mistake for people at work to discuss personal choice topics lile politics. Use it to your advantage, let it be known around the office you are not the type to engage in those type of discussions and you will be seen the better person and reap the rewards.
posted by stbalbach at 6:03 PM on January 12, 2004

Belittle them.

Seriously, though, it's hard to give any salient advice without any knowledge of the disagreement or the situation. I don't know many "decent" people who have views that I would classify as "reprehensible", considering all the connotations that carries with it. In my mind, that pretty much denotes the person as anything but decent. It would take a lot for me to consider someone's views reprehensible though.
posted by The God Complex at 6:10 PM on January 12, 2004

I hope it's not your bosses or people above you...I'm with konolia (and it was a very very hard lesson to learn for a bigmouth like me). A frown or simple avoidance can sometimes be enough to send a message without losing your job; sometimes not tho and you have to remove yourself.
posted by amberglow at 6:31 PM on January 12, 2004

What God said. Not that God, The God. (uh, Complex.) I had a problem with issues this -- well, let's face it I still do -- my best recommendation. Ask questions. Not like here, but to those expressing the reprehensible views. And not in a sniping way either. Try to learn where they are coming from.
posted by Dick Paris at 6:43 PM on January 12, 2004

Approach it as a golden opportunity for you to practice the dying art of tolerance. Listen, and consciously try to to counter the feelings of disagreement, revulsion and even anger that these people's opinions might otherwise stir up within you.

Always a dificult skill to master, its lately come to be viewed as superfluous in these righteous times.
posted by Fupped Duck at 6:57 PM on January 12, 2004

If you absolutely feel you need to talk to them about it, try the following:

You know Mary, I really enjoy working with you but it makes me really uncomfortable to discuss at work. I'd really appreciate it if we could avoid discussing here.

Slice and dice as you please. Say this 3 times (possibly verbatim) over 3 weeks (if necessary). Then, HR or your mutual boss.

Oh, and what Dness2, Biscotti, D. Paris, and Fupped Duck said.

posted by daver at 8:38 PM on January 12, 2004

Oh good god, have I been there.

The look always worked for me. I wouldn't say anything, I'd just turn around, look at them, and then go back to my work.

When the 20-year-old new guy decided that I was a good audience to talk about how his new girlfriend was boring but became a lot of fun "after she has a few beers in her", the look worked wonders.
posted by Katemonkey at 12:09 AM on January 13, 2004

Live your own life according to your own values, and let them be who they are.

The question I find myself asking is "why do you want to voice your dissent?": what is your aim; your intent in doing so?

Why can't you simply say to yourself, if they choose to live with such reprehensible, disgusting views (or whatever) then that's their business.

Default advice: raise an eyebrow, and ponder the wide variety of stange people there are living on this planet.

Impossible to comment further without knowing the specifics of the comments you object to, Snyder.
posted by Blue Stone at 3:20 AM on January 13, 2004

do you really find them otherwise ok people? or do you think they're assholes, then feel bad about it, then feel trapped because you need to work there and can only do that by being a hypocrite? if that's a closer description then start looking for a new job like crazy. get out of there. you're not happy. they're probably aware and wondering why. things are going to go bang sooner or later - get yourself an escape route asap.

in the same situation i actually modified my cv, including in my aims, a description of the kind of working environment i wanted. it was just a small comment, but actually helped me get another job in a company that felt the same way i did. you still have a job, so can pick and choose a little - the idea is to avoid making the same mistake again.

on the other hand, if you really find these people ok, what Blue Stone said.
posted by andrew cooke at 9:17 AM on January 13, 2004

Invite them out for beers after work, then engage them in healthy discourse. Challenge their views.
posted by vito90 at 9:37 AM on January 13, 2004

Suffer fools in silence.

The longer the reply here, the better otherwise: dness2 is one of the least crazy persons on MetaFilter--I always pay attention to nis opinion on matters like these but he's not alone in in giving good advice here.

Be silent doesn't mean you have to tacitly support what they say and engaging with them may mean you might reveal personal information--to which category your opinions belong--that might be used against you later on.

The people you work with get as familiar with you as family and can treat you just as bad. Don't give them ammunition.
posted by y2karl at 10:00 AM on January 13, 2004

I am often the only left-wing athiest weirdo in my various offices, and so more than once have found myself at odds with my more conservative and religous coworkers. I am normally okay with smiling politely and just not encouraging discussion about topics that I might completely disagree with, but that I feel are more or less harmless. (I put a former coworker's constant, nagging attempts to "save me" in this category. She meant well, even if I found her constant admonitions that I would be burning in hell one day rather irritating.)

But when the conversation would turn toward issues that I cannot just brush off (women's rights, abortion, George Bush, gay rights) or things that are just truly offensive (racism) I would generally say with an introspective look like I'm really giving their view point some serious thought, "I have very strong feelings about this issue and have a hard time discussing it without getting emotional, so I'd rather not get into it here at work."

This stopps the current conversation without offense, expresses a sense of displeasure without getting into specifics or attacking, and most importantly, keps these idiots away from me in the future. You will probably get talked about behind your back (I got slapped with the "over-sensitive PC police" label early on at one job because I requested that some one not tell racist jokes in my office) but I'd rather get snubbed by the assholes than totally go against my own ethics to fit in with them.

I tend to adopt a very neutral "work personality" wherever I work, anyway, so it's not hard for me to pull this off. I don't like to get to close to my coworkers, mostly because our world views are so often at odds.
posted by jennyb at 10:20 AM on January 13, 2004

"A real gangsta-ass nigga never runs his fuckin' mouth, cuz real gangsta-ass niggas don't start fights" - Geto Boys

Words to live by. Don't even give them the dignity of some sort of "I don't discuss this kind of stuff at work" comment- it often opens the door to "Why not?" conversations that are just traps to draw you in.

Just don't participate. If you're specifically called out, just say "'Scuse me, I'm busy" and go about your business.
posted by mkultra at 10:39 AM on January 13, 2004

Honestly, none of us can really give the best advice unless we know what category this reprehensible talk fits into. Racism or sexism to me is a tad different than politics or social issues. The latter is usually an area of differing opinions whereas the former is simply wrong, period. I personally feel there are at least slight differences as to how one should react.
posted by konolia at 12:28 PM on January 13, 2004

I want to express my dissent from their views, while not alienating them or making my job unbearable.

No matter what you say, you're going to alienate them, at least to some extent. Think about it - you already feel somewhat alienated because they're on the other side of whatever fence we're talking about, right? If you show dissent, they'll probably feel much the same way about you. In my experience, there's no real way to eliminate this blow. Everything from totally polite to casual and on through to almost-confrontational is likely to sting to some extent. It may even be treated as a personal attack. People are like that, I suppose... we don't have a very good wall between our opinions and our image of ourselves.

This said, if dissent is really important to you, don't be afraid to say something... but be aware that doing so is likely to cool the relationship you have with these people. IMHO, everything depends on whether or not the relationship you've got is worth suffering in silence for.
posted by vorfeed at 2:58 PM on January 13, 2004

Response by poster: I appreciate all the help you all have given me, I unfortunately haven't been able to respond earlier due to my net connection being down. In any event, I think I should clear up my story a little, in case anyone is still interested, the reason I didn't mention specifics was because I didn't want it to become a discussion of the specifics, but I see that I was to vague. I work at a hot dog restaurant, in the U.S., with young people. Everyone but the GM is younger than me, and I've gotten this from a good portion of my coworkers. Regarding the actual topic konolia is right, it does concern racism.

It lies more with offhand comments, rather than invitations for discussion. Sometimes, I feel that my silence=consent, however, I also feel that there's no point in being confrontational, no matter how polite, just for it's own sake.
The major problem comes for me when I begin to be a little to ingratiating, I feel that if I simply don't respond or remove myself from the situation, It'll be noticed and have attention brought to it, and then my hand would be forced, so to speak. These are otherwise decent folk, and have been very friendly fact, they were kind of amazed/fascinated with my being Jewish, as opposed to...something bad. (Kind of weird, not entirely bad, I guess. First really vivid experience of being "the other.")

In any event, I think I'll follow the advice to simply keep my mouth shut, unless the subject is directly brought up for discussion, then (as I have done before,) be oblique and diplomatic as possible.

Of course, mkultra's quote is something I should've remembered.

If anyone has any more advice, it would be appreciated, and I do thank you all for your time and advice.
posted by Snyder at 7:49 PM on January 15, 2004

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