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Is it bad practice to disagree with a boss on personal opinions, in the context of talking about things for fun? For example, if a boss is talking about how much corruption is in the Catholic Church and they try to hide it, can I say defend it? Does it matter if my position is controversial and goes against the common view?

For example, they were talking about how women aren't allowed in the US army and how this is bad. I personally disagree because I've heard some very compelling and logical reasons why women aren't allowed in the army - but I don't want to be misconstrued as being sexist so arguing these kinds of points is probably bad at work, am I right?

I personally think such sensitive topics shouldn't be brought up in the first place at work but if it's my boss who's bringing them up what should I do?

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    But women are allowed in the U.S. Army; they have been for decades. I believe that what changed recently is they are now allowed to serve in combat roles. – GreenMatt Mar 13 '13 at 20:42
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    @GreenMatt you see this frustrates me even more, it's like the more I listen to them the more wrong information I have. They are constantly pull facts out of thin air – user8119 Mar 13 '13 at 20:46
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    Depends entirely on the context of the relationship one has with their boss. Not really answerable in a generic way. – DA. Mar 13 '13 at 21:42
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    I would say that you should know your facts and understand issues strongly enough where you're not going to be misled by a bit of small talk before you start pntificating--no matter who brings up the subject. – Amy Blankenship Mar 14 '13 at 3:15
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    You're only encouraging these topics of discussion by engaging in them. – user8365 Mar 14 '13 at 17:42
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This taboo on discussing controversial things at work may be a cultural matter. A former co-worker - originally from another country - said that where he grew up and began his career discussing - even arguing - politics at work was an everyday thing, even between people who disagreed strongly. According to this former co-worker, in the culture of his younger times people didn't hold grudges against people who disagreed with them politically and got along well when the discussions and arguments were over. However, it seems that here in the United States many (but certainly not all) people find it impossible to disagree with someone without creating hard feelings which sometimes persist for a long time. Thus, the unwritten rule we have in the U.S. and other countries.

The reason people recommend avoiding controversial discussions in the work place, especially with the boss, is the possibility of trouble. Recent news articles about a woman who was fired for voting the wrong way support that problems happen sometimes, especially when it is the boss with whom you have different opinions.

Having said all that, I've realized that I've often worked in places where politics is not so taboo. However, I've usually worked in places where there is wide (but not unanimous) agreement for most issues. In the other places I was fortunate enough to be either in a place where differing viewpoints were respected (or at least tolerated) or where I was able to avoid getting pulled into controversial conversations.

So, my advice is to avoid such conversations as much as possible, especially when you're new and still determining what sort of people you work with. If confronted on the issues during this time, or if you've decided that it isn't safe to discuss such issues, politely decline - saying something like "Sorry, but I prefer to avoid political discussions at work." should be respected. If you determine that you work in an environment where you're safe to discuss controversial matters, then proceed if you want, but remain respectful; also remain wary of bad feelings arising and cut things short if that happens.

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    yup, easy to lose your job by being branded a troublemaker if your opinions on "hot topics" differ from those of your boss or his/her favourites on the team, especially if either or both of you have strong opinions and aren't likely to back down in an argument about them. – jwenting Mar 18 '13 at 12:33
  • From Coleman Barks, The Essential Rumi: "If the wine drinker has a great gentleness within him, he will show that when drunk. But if he has hidden anger and arrogance, those appear, and since most people do, wine is forbidden to everyone." – user37746 Sep 16 '16 at 13:47
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Don't discuss personal, controversial issues at work. You're there primarily to work and the last thing you want to do is offend anyone, and certainly not your boss. Always steer clear of religion and politics. If your coworkers are discussing it, stay out of the discussion. If someone attempts to force you into the conversation, you can avoid adding your own thoughts by saying something like "that's an interesting view."

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    If forced into the conversation, nod and say, "That's interesting." – HLGEM Mar 13 '13 at 21:54
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    I don't completely agree with this.. But I would say- If you have to ask, then you probably shouldn't. – user606723 Mar 14 '13 at 18:13
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    Even if you are with coworkers that are friends of yours; a joke or comment related to religion or a specific culture could be taken the wrong way by anyone else listening. – Garry Mar 16 '13 at 17:14
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    many people hold their factual errors on political, social, economic, religious, and even scientific matters to be truth sacrosanct and anyone pointing them out to be a troublemaker at best and pure evil at worst. – jwenting Mar 18 '13 at 12:35
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    @l46kok You are there to do a job, not to educate your boss. All you're doing is asking for trouble and potentially fired. – Andy Mar 18 '13 at 14:46
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Discussing religion, politics, or sex in the workplace is generally a bad idea. If you can't ignore the people who are wrong on the internet office, try responding "analytically" and impersonally:

"It's terrible that women aren't allowed in the army!" [sic]

"I wonder if they do that because of X."

or

"I can understand why they would be worried about A, B, and C."

The trick here is to avoid expressing your own opinion. You're not saying the other person is wrong, just that there are some issues that make it not as clear-cut as the speaker believes.

But again, if you don't want to discuss it, try to avoid doing so at all. "I'd rather not talk about that" or "gosh, look at the time -- code freeze in 15 minutes!" or your exit strategy of choice.

  • What prompted the [sic] in your own suggested quote? +1 by the way, I like your suggestion. – JoeTaxpayer Mar 15 '13 at 1:43
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    @JoeTaxpayer, the [sic] is because women are allowed in the army, as discussed in the comments on the post. I wasn't sure how to best represent that. – Monica Cellio Mar 15 '13 at 1:45
  • Got it, fine for here, the English usage board might take exception, but it does clarify the issue. Specifically, avoiding any confrontation that would come with disagreeing, even if you know the fact is misstated. – JoeTaxpayer Mar 15 '13 at 1:50
  • That's mostly what I try to do. I don't know if my coworkers here even know that my political opinions diametrically opposed to them (it's a small office made up mostly people from the same religious community, of which I'm not part). Last year one guy directly asked me, a straight yes or no question, if I was going to vote for Obama and when I answered another woman yelled at him "Bentzi! You can't ask that!". – Kevin Rubin Mar 15 '13 at 12:59
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I'm also in the land of not discussing highly heated topics in my professional life. When a few things like that have cropped up, I usually just pull the conversation back to work topics or, if that isn't feasible, I tell the person that part of my work/life balance is keeping personal topics away from my work life.

I've never had anyone get angry but I've had a few people look embarrassed :)

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It really depends on your relationship. If you have a great, respectful, personal relationship with a culture that fosters personal friendships at work, then this may be ok to have a discussion with dissenting opinions, but if you are in a relationship like that, then this probably wouldn't be a question you would need to ask. Also, even if it is a discussion with someone you have a close enough friendship with, be aware of who else is around. It isn't worth discussing if it is going to make others nearby uncomfortable.

If it is a purely business relationship, try to keep it purely business and avoid personal topics until a supportive personal relationship is there to support such discussions. Try to avoid talking about it unless you find it offensive. If you find it offensive, try to leave it at pointing out that such discussion is offensive to you and ask (politely) if the discussion could stop and get back to work.

Disclaimer: I'm coming from a company where the culture is extremely friendly and people can have polite political discussions without causing drama because of the level of friendship among co-workers, but this is also a rare thing and still is not a common occurrence outside of the occasional shared break.

  • "The light shined in the darkness, but the darkness comprehended it not." – user37746 Sep 16 '16 at 13:52
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One of the informal and most powerful rules of being a con artist is Learn what political and religious stance your target takes and agree with it.

When you validate someone's political/religious stance, especially a controversial one, you are suddenly their friend and your credibility goes up. It doesn't make sense on the surface. But Ethos, Pathos, Logos: Arguments that appeal to emotion are as strong, if not stronger than logic, and builds credibility when they have no other things to hold on to.

The safest thing to do is to say nothing, but agree on all points which you truly agree on.

However, some people do not like yes-men, as they provide little (and false!) feedback. Agreeing to everything they say or refusing to comment may be a (very) negative thing. They love it when people disagree with them.

In this case, it's best to observe how those people react when talking to others about a similar topic. The ideal is to have a conversation in a group, with a talkative colleague who speaks their mind. Observe those conversations. If they react positively to those who disagree, you should feel safe to speak your mind.

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    Very good point. It is easy to say upfront "Just say nothing," but in the moment, with a colleague or multiple colleagues waiting to hear what you have to say, you have to think on your feet. I think an alternative would be to say something like "I don't have an opinion on that." – Garry Mar 16 '13 at 17:17
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    I wouldn't recommend saying you don't have an opinion. That makes you look either apathetic or underconfident.. both which are poor personality traits to have in the workplace. A better way to say it is to affirm your neutral position, acknowledge both sides, but don't take either. "Do you think abortion is murder?" "I don't think it's as bad as killing a fully born human, but it is better than having someone die of giving birth." Validate as many arguments as possible; people only get angry if their beliefs are invalidated. Saying you have no opinion dismisses the importance of the issue. – Muz Mar 17 '13 at 23:19
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You should never discuss Sex, Religion or Politics at work even with colleagues.

It would be foolish to give an opinion that angers them. Don't forget that they may be testing for sympathies that they disagree with. On the other hand you've got to be relaxed and friendly and do not openly disagree. If you are dragged into a conversation you can just ask them about things they've said, ask them to clarify their opinion. Many of these subjects are strongly held feelings with emotional beliefs, there is no point in trying to use logic to change someone's opinion. If you have a strong belief then the only good outcome is if you both already agree and so it increases friendship. The fact that you are socialising does not make any difference. They may start a topic in a social situation hoping that your guard is down. They will still remember things the next day at work.

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My boss likes to talk about controversial topics. I disagree with him on most points, and feel really uncomfortable when he tries to engage me. I can tell he cares more about the banter than the subject matter and is just trying to coax me out of my shell by goading me about topics he thinks I'm passionate about. If your workplace is the same, you could probably go for it if it was done respectfully and with full ability to laugh at yourself. I am sure if I did this, my relationship with my boss would be warmer.

I, however, really want to stay in my shell. I also think very slowly on my feet (out loud - I can't translate ideas to words quickly enough to keep up in conversation much less argument). I have found the following phrases semi-effective in making him go away:

"What a doozy. I hope there's some form of resolution soon."

"And that's probably just the tip of the iceberg. Just think of all the complexities we aren't aware of since we're both actually completely unconnected from the problem. With how little we know, it's really good neither of us are in charge of fixing it."

"Oh yes, you mentioned before what you think about [the topic]. What do you think about [this work related task]?"

"It's too sunny outside for politics. Let's hammer this out so we can make the best of the afternoon."

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Some people might argue that you should follow the lead of the boss, but often the boss will apply one rule for themselves and another rule for everyone else. I think the only fair opinion you can express is if the particular comment is sensitive or offensive to you, other than that it is simply a matter of participating at your own risk/peril!

My reason for saying this is because you should not take someone else's standard/practice as being acceptable unless you know the reason why, but even if you do know, it doesn't mean that this standard/practice is suitable for you to adopt (hence you can only tolerate what the boss does, and not do what the boss does as well - same applies to colleagues). However, workplace practices suggest that if you find something offensive, then you should raise it with the person informally first, and if you find that the practice continues and is causing you problems, then raise it with the HR manager. Of course, the casual office banter might be acceptable to one person, but for certain topics people will take very seriously. In the end, it is not worth taking the risk because once you cross the line then it is very hard to get your name off someone's blacklist. It is better to be safe than sorry, especially within the workplace.

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