Ask a Hot Mess: How do I deal with my conservative coworkers?

Note: Scarlet Meyer is a writer and comedian. All opinions expressed on this advice column are solely her own, and will probably end up on her future animated series, so buckle up. If that doesn’t stop you, you can send her life advice here.

Happy Tuesday and welcome back to Ask a Hot Mess, the only DIY advice column liked by mom 50+ times! This week’s question is about handling coworkers, and what to do when you severely disagree with them on a personal level. They write:

I work with a lot of dudes in a pretty small office, and we have all been almost like family up until today. Today, a bunch of them said really conservative and shitty things. I completely disagree and I think the way they talk about women and minorities is not cool. Should I just quit my job?

First of all, I’m so sorry. That is the worst feeling ever. To feel at home and at peace with a group of people, and then hear them say something super racist or sexist that just jerks you awake sucks. Having it happen at work makes it all the worse, because you feel like you have less wiggle room to act, even though they’re the ones being unprofessional.

There’s a couple ways to handle this. If you don’t feel comfortable talking directly to them, you can always nip an uncomfortable conversation in the bud. The first step to this is deflection. Next time someone says something offensive, quickly jump in and make a joke that calls attention to the fact that what they’re saying is messed up, and they need to quiet down. It’s great when it works because you let the person know you disagree with them in a way that is not aggressive, and makes everyone laugh to ease tension. And the magical thing is that usually after the laugh happens everyone moves on, because they don’t want to hear more of this person’s inappropriate views either.

If you can’t think of a joke on the fly, abruptly changing the subject works too. Ask someone else in the room a question about an unrelated topic that requires a detailed response. Usually people can’t wait to jump in and talk about expense reports or Lionel Richie or whatever you just thought of to change the course of conversation. The offensive person will (hopefully) get the hint.

If this doesn’t work, my next moves are blunt. When someone says something sexist or racist my go to move is to just stare at them and say ‘Excuse me?’ very sternly and wait for them to repeat themselves. They usually won’t, because you’ve made it clear you’re not here for their bullshit. My last and final move is to simply say, ‘I disagree and I don’t want to talk about this right now.’ This is really blunt and has no subtlety, so save it when you are so incredibly fed up and angry that you can barely make words.

If you feel comfortable talking it out with them outside of work in a neutral space I would highly encourage that. I’ve had several instances where coworkers I respect say some horrible stuff that makes my heart hurt. While it’s definitely not easy, I’ve found that explaining to them why what they’re saying is hurting you usually makes them grow and suck less as a person in the long run. Even if they’re defensive and don’t get it right away, you’re probably in more of a place to help them see the light than anyone else because they work with you. They can’t avoid you, so they have to listen to you.

Since we all unfortunately need money to exist in modern society, I would only consider quitting your job if this is indicative of larger patterns from your coworkers. For example, do their shitty conservative views affect their hiring decisions or how they handle interpersonal conflict at work? Do you feel like you’re taken less seriously than your other colleagues because of your race and/or gender? If that’s the case, I’d start looking for opportunities elsewhere. That way you can be working at a place that will value you and help you grow as a professional person.

Sincerely,

Scarlet; hot mess

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