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Background: I am a junior developer at a large software company. The person in question is a senior PM who reports to my skip-level manager (my manager's manager). My manager has worked with the senior PM before, advocated for him to be hired and the senior PM holds significant sway in our organization. I've been on the team for about 18 months, first as a contractor and was brought on full time about 4 months ago. My team frequently has lunch together, and this PM often joins us.

During 3 separate lunch conversations about politics (which is a frequent topic of discussion), I have expressed what basically amount to anti-war views about current happenings in US foreign/domestic policy. These are not wildly controversial or conspiracy laden views. You could find similar arguments to mine made in the opinion section of major news organizations. In each case, the senior PM in question very condescendingly and forcefully stated that my opinions were wrong. There was no room for debate, or any sense that we were having a conversation as equals. His view was right, mine was wrong and based on a lack of understanding of how the world works.

If I were not at work, I would have pretty forcefully argued back, as in each case they were on topics I am well versed in and are opinions which are strongly held and (I like to think) well reasoned. Given the large disparity in our place in the corporate power structure and the forcefulness of his dismissal, I just kind of bit my tongue and withdrew from the conversation.

This seemed like the right response at the time, as he showed no signs of considering other points of view and it was generally just going to be a dead end of an argument. Responding with equal force or insisting I knew better risked making him mad or causing some awkward tension at the table and generally seemed like a no-win situation for me.

I have generally written this off as "he's a pompous jackass whom I won't be discussing politics with anymore", but I've been left with the impression that he now sees me as naïve and not particularly intelligent. While on the one hand, I don't really care what he thinks and am perfectly capable of working with him without liking him, he holds considerable sway and works frequently with people who will decide my future promotions/bonuses/raises. If this is his opinion and it spreads to my manager, my managers manager, etc, it could negatively impact my career. I am aware my on the job performance will (or at least should) be the biggest factor in these areas, but I know office politics plays at least some role as well.

Further, this has just really gotten under my skin, as here I am posting about it online several weeks later. I've mostly stopped attending the team lunches because I don't want be talked to so condescendingly by this person. When I do attend and the senior PM is present, I just don't talk and come up with a reason to leave early. Avoiding the lunches as I have been seems like the wrong move as I can tell these are important team-building opportunities to my manager, but I've no interest in talking to this person.

So my questions are: Is there any benefit to mentioning this to anyone else in the organization (the PM himself, my manager, my skip-level manager)? My general thought is no as I just end up looking whiny and it's not really work related aside from the fact that we were on-campus and in a conversation with several other members of the team.

Is there any upside to defending my points of view in the future or should I continue to steer clear of personal conversations with this person? I'm generally fairly composed and can argue on points of logic rather than emotion, but I'm not entirely sure I can do this tactfully at this point. I also wonder if he's the type that will respect being challenged and by not arguing my point I'm feeding into his belief that I'm not anywhere near his intellectual equal.

Any general advice for working with someone who is significantly more senior to you that you really dislike personally? I would emphasize that in work-related matters, there have been no issues to this point. I probably spend more time checking my grammar in emails to him than I would normally, but otherwise the working relationship is fine.

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    I don't know the size of your team but if it's big enough 8-10+ persons you can join the lunch and simply make to sit away and have conversation with other teammates. This allow you to not miss on the team building but without having to deal with him directly. – Rémi Feb 6 at 2:02
  • Condescension is very much a defensive mechanism that people use when they're feeling threatened or dismissed. Take it as a sign that you got your point across and also as a warning not to go further. You should absolutely continue to go to team lunch and refrain from politics. Consider privately communicating to the PM that you're sorry things got heated and that you're not going to bring up politics with him again and leave it as an "agree to disagree" state. – teego1967 Feb 6 at 10:45
  • Welcome new user, would it be possible to drastically shorten this interesting question? – Fattie Feb 6 at 13:07
  • "Any general advice for working with someone [ ] that you really dislike personally?" Yes, I have added an addendum dealing specifically with this issue. – Fattie Feb 6 at 14:54
  • ...and that, my friends, is why you don't discuss politics at work. – dwizum Feb 7 at 15:17
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During 3 separate lunch conversations about politics (which is a frequent topic of discussion), I have expressed ...

Well, there's your mistake right there. It doesn't actually matter what you expressed. Work and politics don't mix. In fact, don't express Strong opinions about anything - even to say that kittens are cute.

Given the large disparity in our place in the corporate power structure and the forcefulness of his dismissal, I just kind of bit my tongue and withdrew from the conversation

Yup, that's the way to do it.

Is there any upside to defending my points of view in the future or should I continue to steer clear of personal conversations with this person?

Surely you can see that there would be no upside to it? You have, in fact, already answered that when you said

There was no room for debate, or any sense that we were having a conversation as equals. His view was right, mine was wrong and based on a lack of understanding of how the world works.

You can't win this one.

When I do attend and the senior PM is present, I just don't talk and come up with a reason to leave early

Is about the best that you could do - if you want to stay in that job (do you?). Hopefully, with time, he will forget somewhat, or find someone else with whom to demonstrate his superiority.

The only other thing that I can think of is to find some topic that you both agree on, and try to steer the conversation there. You can even get away with

"You know that we will never agree on trump, but how 'bout them thar (sporting team/kittens/work topic; e.g next deadline).

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And now you've learned why discussing politics at work generally isn't a smart move. There's just too high a chance of running into someone with entrenched views that are opposite to your own.

Is there any benefit to mentioning this to anyone else in the organization (the PM himself, my manager, my skip-level manager)?

Nope. Because..

My general thought is no as I just end up looking whiny and it's not really work related aside from the fact that we were on-campus and in a conversation with several other members of the team.

Nailed it!

Is there any upside to defending my points of view in the future

Your call.. if someone brings it up to you then you can if you want but it's probably preferable to just say I don't talk about politics at work or similar.

Any general advice for working with someone who is significantly more senior to you that you really dislike personally?

It's never a great situation to be in - but it's fairly inevitable that pretty much everyone will encounter it at some point. Just keep things professional, polite and do your work to the best of your ability. If you find yourself building up a head of resentment or hatred for them then periodically vent to someone suitable outside of the work environment (Spouse, pet, therapist etc)

otherwise the working relationship is fine

Whatever faults this PM may or may not have, here is one situation where it is worth following their example. For all we know they might be going home and telling their Spouse/pet/therapist that you're an idiot - but if so they don't appear to be letting it get in the way of conducting a professional relationship.

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To cut to the heart of the matter:

To succeed in business, there is a critical skill you must have

Critical skill you must have to succeed in business: You must be able to make small talk.

You must be able to

  1. engage in positive, harmless, non-controversial professional business-level small talk

  2. you must be able to keep it non-rowdy, non-political, non-religious

  3. even if another party mentions sex or politics, you must be able to politely diffuse that and instantly turn it back to positive, harmless, non-controversial professional business-level small talk

Those three points together are described as "polite human small-talk".

If you cannot do this you will not make it in business.

When you find yourself in a unfortunate situation where you must pass time with either

  • prospects
  • seniors
  • customers
  • clients

You literally must have the skill of being able to engage in "polite human small-talk" , as specified in points 1/2/3 above.

HOT TIP: the sales folks in your organization are, of course, masters at this skill. You can literally ask them how to do it (they will give you specific actual tips) or, you can observe them (you'll be astounded at their skill at this).

Note, it would appear that your organization engages in the very unfortunate practice of "team building crap". If so, it is absolutely necessary that you have the skill of being able to engage in "polite human small-talk" , as specified in points 1/2/3 above. At worst, just say nothing and appear somewhat quiet/withdrawn - which is totally harmless.

Please carefully re-read points 1/2/3. Especially point 3. And particularly 1 and 2.

This is a literal skill you must build. Just as you build skill in reactive programming, writing custom UX for Android or whatever.

You must build this skill!

Note - "point 3" was your downfall in the example at hand.


A useful addendum:

OP says "[someone at work] that you really dislike personally..."

I urge you to drastically, drastically, change your mental poise. Do your work and then go home to your family and have a life. I literally, and I mean literally, could not state the name of the (wonderful - I think!) folks I currently work for, i.e. the tech lead on the current research project who I work with every day for months now. The idea of me "disliking" some colleague at a particular workplace is, inconceivable. If you are "mentally involved" with someone at work, I would urge that you must stop that, right now, today.

Please consider the following outstanding thought experiment technique which was passed on to me:

... you're having a conversation, about Pokemon, with a small child. (Perhaps you meet a family on a bus, it's a friend's child, or whatever.) Obviously, you're kind and it's a fun conversation. You neither talk down nor up to the child; you give your opinion on the Best Pokemon and you listen to the child's detailed views (there's that "out of the mouth's of babes!" humorous stuff) on their heartfelt opinion on the Best Pokemon, and so on.

Now you will agree with me that:

Afterwards, it is totally inconceivable that you will replay the conversation in your head, or find yourself thinking "Oh man, that kid had no clue about blah blah blah..." Am I right?

If you examine this example interaction, you will in fact learn how to "make small talk with other adults" in a professional and competent manner. A lightbulb will go on and you will "get" the mental poise to have when taking part in the critical skill of professional adult human small-talk.

You probably know that thought experiment for folks who are shy ... "imagine everyone else is naked..." Right? It's an amazing thought experiment technique . I hope, the "talking Pokemon with a small child" thought experiment will help with the specific problem you describe: inability to make professional, competent small-talk.

Again, if you find yourself thinking anything about some other person at work, ("I dislike them!" "I like them!" etc), I would truly, truly urge you to drastically change your mental poise, literally today.

Be a professional, work, and go home to your family as soon as the bell rings.

  • I mostly agree, though as improvement suggestion: You might cut down a tad bit about the repetitions regarding point 1,2,3 which, agreed, one should know and I get the rhetoric. But the repetition dragged on a bit too long and nearly made me skip the remainder assuming it would go on like that. As a personal notion, I would keep the mental entanglement open for colleagues one really clicks with and can become friends, but only after careful examination. One doesn't need to shut everyone out, but one should indeed keep to oneself as a default. Feel free to incorporate or not. – Frank Hopkins Feb 6 at 17:48
  • I disagree with this. Being that reserved is not helpful when networking. Stay away from dangerous topics, by all means, but never interacting with your coworkers is, in my opinion, not generally good advice. – bytepusher Feb 6 at 23:02
  • @bytepusher - the whole post actually says (repeatedly :) ) "become excellent at making small talk with business colleagues". – Fattie Feb 6 at 23:56
  • And I don't agree that that is all that is required. Generally speaking. Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying you have to be friends with everyone at work. But just small talk only goes so far. ymmv :) – bytepusher Feb 7 at 0:37
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Is there any benefit to mentioning this to anyone else in the organization ...

No. There is no need.

Any general advice for working with someone who is significantly more senior to you that you really dislike personally?

You should follow up with your senior PM. You'll agree everything your senior PM claimed. It doesn't matter if you like the arguments or not, your goal is to establish a good networking in the company. If your senior PM somehow believed Obama was a good president, you would say YES. Make yourself popular.

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    You don’t necessarily make yourself popular by sycophantic behavior. – Roman Feb 6 at 1:21
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    @Roman true but you would absolutely make yourself unpopular if you don’t – SmallChess Feb 6 at 2:14
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    @SmallChess not true at all. Many people can respect someone with differing opinions, and what you're suggesting would simply signal to the senior PM that this person is weak and an easy target. Think David Brent to Finchy from The Office (UK) – 520 Feb 6 at 10:23
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    Horrible advice. No one likes a sycophant. Such behavior makes people cringe and leads to irrecoverable loss of integrity. – teego1967 Feb 6 at 10:56
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    This is a great answer - OP you can ignore the downvotes. – Fattie Feb 6 at 13:10

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