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I work at a software company and my boss is a Muslim American. I have never spoken to him about his religion or politics during our one-on-one conversations, but would like to express some form of support for him and his family in light of what the current US president-elect has said regarding his religion and Muslim Americans.

  • Is it appropriate to say anything at all, given that I know very little about his personal life outside of work?
  • Is there a right way to approach a situation like this, and if so, what would be a professional thing to say?

closed as off-topic by gnat, paparazzo, Jim G., Chris E, Retired Codger Nov 14 '16 at 19:45

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  • 17
    You've never discussed his religion or politics and out of the blue you want to make a statement that assumes he feels a certain way about both? He may not even be worried about it. Assuming so will make you look foolish and patronizing. Please don't say anything about it until/unless he shares his worries with you (if he has any). – Kent A. Nov 13 '16 at 12:25
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    Ditto. It seems fairly presumptuous to assume what someone's political views are, based solely on their stated religion. – Sam Varshavchik Nov 13 '16 at 14:34
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    That would be a creepy move unless you a personal friend of his, which does not seem to be the case. People at work do not like to be approached with personal remarks, especially about their religion or ethnic background. – Socrates Nov 13 '16 at 15:23
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    @rookie indeed. Image you saying what you wanted to say. And he would come back with "But I have voted for Trump". In fact Trump might be his personal hero (Especailly from a business perspective?). A decent portion of Moslims voted for him after all. – Jeroen Nov 14 '16 at 14:59
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    He is American. What concerns should he have exactly? Why is his religion important? If he was Canadian American would you say anything? If he was French American who praticticed Buddhism would you say anything? If he was a white American who was muslin would you say anything? My point, by you saying anything, you will cross a line that can never be reversed – Ramhound Nov 15 '16 at 5:26
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It's bad practice to mix politics or religion with work, unless you're in one of those industries.

So your best option is not to do anything. You're not responsible for what a politician says. They're barely held responsible for it themselves most of the time.

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    A New York Muslim association has organized volunteers to escort Muslims to work in light of a spike in hate crimes that seem suspiciously connected to the election results. Personal responsibility will be entering the picture soon enough. Per my answer I don't think the OP should say much, but I'm posting this comment because I think it's a bit of a fallacy that politics must intrinsically stay irrelevant to interpersonal or professional relationships. Occasionally, it becomes extremely important to those relationships. – user42272 Nov 13 '16 at 14:57
  • I'm also informed a bit by New York culture. Obviously New York has a thriving business culture including a tech scene. The whole city is fricking glum right now, I've never seen anything like it. Hurricane Sandy was frenzied. 9/11 was before I lived here and probably had some overlap to this experience but of course is quite different and more extreme. That being said New Yorkers do have his slight "I feel ya" culture, where you can give anyone and everyone an "I feel ya" when everyone's devastated. So it's certainly compatible with business culture. – user42272 Nov 13 '16 at 15:00
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    @djechlin not for professionals, they just focus on their work and save the politics and religion for outside. – Kilisi Nov 13 '16 at 20:59
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    @djechlin I'm not arguing that many pros don't do this, just that there is no reason for the OP to do so. I've been in plenty of workplaces where there are heated discussions on such topics, I just don't get involved. No worries on the vote, I'm not worried about rep gains or losses and I'm not infallible. – Kilisi Nov 14 '16 at 1:27
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    Colleagues discuss politics all the time (at least in the US). Political discussions in the workplace are better when approached from an "entertainment" perspective (light-hearted banter). When sides are taken, lines are drawn, and insults start to fly, then oops, we'd better drop the subject and get back to work. Religion is a little more touchy subject: it doesn't fit well in a light-hearted banter context, and seems to foster understanding only when done on a person-to-person basis, not in a group setting and usually away from work. – Kent A. Nov 14 '16 at 14:00
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The usual culture would be to stay as mum as possible about anything politics related at work and especially with your boss.

The election result, especially as it pertains to being Muslim, is beyond exceptional. But you might also observe that in exceptional circumstances, people often express support and gratitude for each other widely and openly.

"Hey, I just want to let you know I've appreciated how good of a boss you've been to me."

This will say quite a lot.


Look, business culture sometimes permits the exercise of personal judgment and sometimes political events are devastating to entire cities or communities. But, if you really want to engage in some straight talk, here it is. I know some people are still treating themselves to the fantasy that there was nothing extremely racist or Islamophobic in Trump's election, but the OP's boss probably got the point that he is not welcome here to the president-elect or the president-elect's constituency. The racial slurs being hurled at Muslims across the country might make the point. This isn't a matter of personal responsibility crossing politics: This is a matter of sending a message to the Muslim who happens to work in your office building that he is safe here. I don't know why a boss-worker relationship would ever take precedent over that. Because apparently that's a question they have to worry about now.

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    I think "to me" and in the past tense would be construed as negative - there's an implication that being a good boss happened in the past but doesn't any longer. Saying "just wanted to let you know, I appreciate how good a boss you are" (optionally: "... to all of us") should suffice. – user53718 Nov 13 '16 at 7:17
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    @Nij noted. OP can work out the details :P (pedantically I prefer "have been" since I prefer thinking of accomplishments over state, and I try to avoid speaking for others especially on a sensitive occasion). – user42272 Nov 13 '16 at 7:19
  • What does "as mum as possible" mean? – RJFalconer Nov 14 '16 at 13:03
  • @RJFalconer "mum" means "silent." – user42272 Nov 14 '16 at 16:17
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Since you mention that you know very little about his personal life, that means you do not have an interpersonal relationship with your boss, where you discuss highly sensitive issues.

Personally, I would try to establish a relationship with him (without seeming like you're pandering to him) and not bring it up while remembering, a boss-employee relationship is different from personal friends relationship.

And don't assume, he's terribly distraught over the election results.

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Don't say anything unless this guy begins to suffer some form of discrimination.

The election doesn't change anything - maintain your pre-existing professional duty to contribute to a fair, non discriminating work environment.

If this guy does begin to suffer mistreatment you will need to deal with it in the usual professional manner.

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Under no circumstances should one feel like they can't ask questions as long as they are not offending anyone. It's good to talk about any topic regardless of its sensitive nature, it's all about having an understanding what is pretty much nonexistent in this day and age.

If your boss regardless of his background is a decent respectable person he would most likely appreciate your concerns and a sensible discussion would take place, regardless of the topic.

  • This approach could work, so long as it's approached as first finding out how the boss feels about the election. Since OP says they've never discussed politics or religion, it would be inappropriate to start a dialogue on an assumption that the boss feels a certain way about it. I agree that open, un-offended, dialogue is good (and needed). Starting from a possibly wrong assumption likely would not contribute to an open dialogue. – Kent A. Nov 14 '16 at 13:53
  • I guess, in theory there are ways and methods to approach people. Goes back to the good old saying, first impressions count. – Pele Roberts Nov 14 '16 at 14:05
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Short answer: No, don't say anything.

Long answer: You say you'd like to "express some form of support for him and his family in light of what the current US president-elect has said regarding his religion and Muslim Americans," which is all well and good in theory, but has a number of drawbacks in real life.

The biggest is that it could easily sound like you think he's afraid, which would be condescending and insulting, unless he's said something to this effect himself. In general, your boss does not look to you for political and emotional support. It's a nice idea, but it just doesn't work in the context of a boss-employee relationship, especially one where you "know very little about his personal life." It's also possible (though less likely) that he would get miffed because he in fact supports Trump himself.

It's good that you want to support your boss, though, and there are ways to do that. Socially/personally, you should intervene if you witness anti-Muslim harassment against him or anyone else. Remember, you can Distract or Delegate as well as intervening Directly! Politically, support the myriad institutions and organizations that would fiercely oppose any attempt to round up or register Muslims, like the Becket Fund.