Roshini Performance Group

Toning down contentious political talk at work

April 6, 2012: 9:53 AM ET

What can you do if your boss holds political views that are the opposite of yours -- and he won't stop talking about them?

FORTUNE -- Dear Annie: I work in a small (20-person) department of a huge company, for a boss who I think is fundamentally a good guy. He's a devoted dad, very fair to us employees, and usually a pleasure to be around. The problem is his political opinions, which are so extreme they make Rush Limbaugh look like a flaming liberal. He and I are on polar opposite sides of almost every issue in the news these days, from immigration policy to health care reform.

That would be fine if he didn't insist on talking about politics all the time and trying to get the rest of us to agree with him. A few of my colleagues, who I happen to know are way more moderate than they're letting on, are kissing up to him by pretending to agree in order to get on his good side, but I'm just not going to do that. Can you or your readers suggest a diplomatic way to shut down all this yakking and let us get back to work? — Gritting My Teeth

Dear G.M.T.: For what it's worth, you're not the only one wondering. Many other readers have been asking lately how to persuade colleagues to leave their political views in the parking lot. One issue is that some people believe they have a First Amendment right to spout off at work. But as I wrote in a column during the 2010 Congressional elections, guess what: Private-sector employees on company property (and company time) have no First Amendment rights.

"Political talk does seem unusually heated this time around," says Roshini Rajkumar, head of Minneapolis-based communications coaching firm Roshini Performance Group and author of a book called Communicate That!. "It's a little different than in previous election years because, although Romney is ahead, he's not a clear favorite. His opponents have so many avid supporters that it opens up a lot of discussions." Moreover, she adds, "Some of the issues on the table this time are very emotional, and many people seem to be taking extreme positions."

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Since you note that you work for a huge company, there may be a written policy somewhere -- in the employee handbook, for example -- that prohibits outside distractions, including political talk, that get in the way of work. "If your company has such a policy, you could alert human resources to this situation," Rajkumar says. "But that would be a drastic measure." More

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