In case this is significant, this happened in Germany. Today a co-worker explained me how he believes how almost only the lazy immigrants who can do nothing leave their countries to come here, among others. Then I smiled and pointed to me -I am myself a immigrant-, and he told me he didn't mean me.

I didn't take it personally, and I focused on what this says about him. I also decided to not get too close and spend part of my free time with him. But on the other hand there is a rise of right-wing parties in Europe (here AfD) and I believe it is important to stop this. Because of that I'm wondering if there is something I should do in the office besides pointing at myself as an immigrant, and if it is ethical to do so (I mean to do something about xenophobic beliefs, not pointing at myself).

My concrete questions are: is it ethical to try to change my co-worker's mind when in the office when he starts talking in a pejorative way about immigrants? And do I have some possibility to make some change, even if it is small? If so, what would be a good approach? I thought about giving some information for example about why the majority of immigrants leave their countries, or asking the proper questions (example: the place you live has as good as no immigrants. Then why are you afraid your kids have as good as only immigrant-kids as classmates?) Or maybe I should just drop it and mind my business?

Update: thanks for your answers. They helped me to clear my mind. I have decided to be as friendly to him as I was before yesterday and to keep treating him with the same respect he always showed me. Also to be more careful about what I say to not send the wrong signals. If he brings up the subject again, I can always politely refuse to talk about that. Since I don't feel discriminated nor have I see him discriminate anyone, I won't go to HR.

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    @Brandin: before we where talking about having or finding "historical relics". For example how grandma had a document certifying she was arian. Then he also explained me about how in his group of friends they used to greet each other, "just as a joke". I don't want to repeat the greeting here, but I have to confess I was shocked and didn't know what to say. Then he made sure we where allone and told me his opinion about strangers.
    – Purrrple
    Commented Jan 12, 2017 at 7:44
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    @DarkPurpleShadow Next time if needed you can politely but firmly tell him, "Let's not get into this topic."
    – Brandin
    Commented Jan 12, 2017 at 7:51
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    @Brandin: at home we also have some historical stuff (not only about 3rd Reich), and I have always seen it as something curious. I also find it cool when you can explain about that in a neutral way without people believing you are a Hitler supporter (I once was shown an object of the Soviet union, which I found cool, but I don't support that regime either). Now I wonder if my attitude made him assume it's ok to show his dislike for strangers, and if I have been naive.
    – Purrrple
    Commented Jan 12, 2017 at 7:54
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    @DarkPurpleShadow It's possible you can talk about it with some people and not get into problems. But with this individual, better to avoid such things.
    – Brandin
    Commented Jan 12, 2017 at 8:00
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    This happened in Germany. There you do not "politely refuse to talk". You tell him that he is out of order with his talk and should stop the subject. @Prodnegel: That's what every German has learned at school, that if there is something to be stopped, you do your best to stop it and don't keep your mouth shut. See youtube.com/watch?v=ZTT1qUswYL0
    – gnasher729
    Commented Jan 13, 2017 at 16:42

6 Answers 6


If you really want to do something then the best you can do is befriend your coworker.

"Xenophobia" is literally "fear of strangers"; and the most effective way to change that is to show there is nothing to be afraid of.

I certainly wouldn't bring up the topic as such. The positions of AfD have been thoroughly and widely refuted. Your repetition of that will add nothing.


There is a lot which can and should be done to fight xenophobia and the raise of the new right.

...but the workplace is neither the place nor the time to do that.

Getting into political arguments at work can only hurt your relation with your coworkers and negatively impact your work. So it's best to just ignore such remarks. Unless, of course, your coworker makes remarks which are so obviously racist that they are violating your company rules or that you feel personally discriminated. But then that should be reported as misbehavior to your superior, to HR or whatever positions in your companies it concerns.

If you feel that you should do something to prevent people from forming such opinions, then you should consider to make up for it with personal political activity in your free time. There are plenty of political parties and NGOs who need all the help they can get to counter the alt-right hate speech. Especially now that we have an election year.


It is not uncommon for a company to have a formal code of conduct, also known as business conduct guidelines. This code defines the values the company stands for and expects its employees to honor.

Usually, the code contains something alone the lines of "Not allowed: discrimination based on any bias, including but not limited to religion, handicap, sexual orientation or race". It is also quite common to have a requirement for this as a part of contracts with other companies or customers, especially in the public sector.

If a code of conduct exists at your office, then you can remind your coworker of its existence. You can voice your concerns that talk as such can be harmful to the company's business if it's overheard by a customer or partner, for example.

Does this make it ethical to change your coworker's mind?

The beginning of the second verse of "Die Gedanken sind frei" comes to mind, i.e. "Ich denke was ich will und was mich beglücket, doch alles in der Still', und wie es sich schicket." ('I think what I want, and what delights me, still always reticent, and as it is suitable.'). It is ethical to remind someone of what is accepted as professional behavior at the office, what isn't, and what is not allowed there. Whether this changes his mind depends on your coworker.

  • Sorry down-voted. While this is perfectly "correct" approach, it's likely to make things worse. Most people will get defensive and dig in their heels if you bring out the rule book.
    – Hilmar
    Commented Jan 12, 2017 at 2:33

is it ethical to try to change my co-workers mind when in office when he starts talking in a perjorative way about strangers?

I would say no. Just try to bring the topic back to something productive for the business... having said that, it's even more unprofessional for him to talk like that in a professional setting.

And do I have some possibility to make some change, even if it is small? If so, what would be a good approach?

Yes, you can make a change! Be an example of an immigrant (stranger) which doesn't conform to his beliefs (i.e. don't be lazy, be professional! And encourage other immigrants to do the same).

I thought on giving some information for example about why the most part of strangers leave their countries, or asking the proper questions (example: the place you live have as good as no strangers. Then why are you afraid your kids have as good as only stranger-kids as classmates?)

I think the translation may be off, but ultimately I don't think you should do this sort of thing. It's unprofessional. Just be the bigger person move on with your life.

Or maybe I should just drop it and mind my business?

This is the only course of action with a positive outcome, in my opinion.

  • The irony is I am far away of being the only immigrant in this office, and the other ones are far away of being lazy.
    – Purrrple
    Commented Jan 12, 2017 at 8:58

I do not think you should attempt to 'change' your coworkers mind.

Differing beliefs like the ones that you two have, have a great chance of driving you two apart, when shared. The OP here is a great example of that.

If it were me, and I considered it a problem, I would bring the issue up to HR, not hoping that the employee would be punished, but hoping that HR would be able to talk to the employee and in the end, hopefully, he'd realize that things like this shouldn't be said to others in the workplace.

I see that as the only significant progress that can be expected to be gained here.

It is possible that someone could 'change' his mind, but you run a greater risk by attempting to do so of becoming 'one of them', and making him think of you differently as you now do of him.


You can't change his mind, nor should you. You don't represent all immigrants, you don't speak for any portion of them but yourself, and you have no way of conclusively disproving his point... as he has no way of proving his.

In other words you're both pushing a conjecture. Drop it, befriend the guy if you so wish, and if he brings up politics again just stay out of it.

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