Talking politics at work: guidelines? Guidance?

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Wonky lawyer

Talking politics at work: guidelines? Guidance?

Post by Wonky lawyer » Mon Nov 04, 2019 1:35 am

I’m a pretty liberal person, and I feel like political chit chat has arisen more in recent years. My boss is relatively conservative, so I try not to bring up politics ever in front of him. Sometimes he’ll make a comment about immigrant or transgender rights, but I try to give neutral responses or change the subject. Focusing on avoiding political talk only with one person is fairly easy.

But with my many coworkers, I sometime inadvertently slip into political talk. I don’t mean to, but avoiding political talk can be harder than it might seem. Do you all have that same problem? How do you avoid political talk? Do you even consider talking politics to be a problem?

(I’ll be honest, if I tried to avoid all political talk, I’d feel like a pretty bland and boring conversationalist because I would be trying to avoid all segues into controversial topics.)

The way politics most often comes up is if we’re talking about a legal issue or case, and there always seems to be some political dimension to it. For example, Janus, Census case, Obergefell, DACA, etc. A lot of my coworkers read the latest circuit or SCOTUS cases. Or it seems like everything is political nowadays. The NFL and kneeling, USWNT Soccer, reminding everyone to vaccinate and anti-vaxxers, even the weather and climate change! Ack!

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Re: Talking politics at work: guidelines? Guidance?

Post by lolwat » Mon Nov 04, 2019 10:21 am

I don't know if it's avoidable completely, it depends entirely on the firm culture and what they've deemed "okay" to talk about. Politics is a very natural topic especially when it's at the top of everybody's minds. In previous administrations I saw a lot less of it because there just wasn't something newsworthy blowing up every single day.

I don't see it as a problem as long as people are reasonable about it though. I've heard plenty of healthy discussion over the lunch table or even randomly in offices but nobody ever gets pissed at anybody else over their differing beliefs. I personally just don't take super-strong views on things regardless of how I feel about it. I find it's often when people get into the super-opinionated conversations (especially ones that feel like they have no middle ground) that things generally start to fall apart.

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Re: Talking politics at work: guidelines? Guidance?

Post by Guest » Sat Nov 09, 2019 9:10 am

lolwat wrote:
Mon Nov 04, 2019 10:21 am
I don't know if it's avoidable completely, it depends entirely on the firm culture and what they've deemed "okay" to talk about. Politics is a very natural topic especially when it's at the top of everybody's minds. In previous administrations I saw a lot less of it because there just wasn't something newsworthy blowing up every single day.

I don't see it as a problem as long as people are reasonable about it though. I've heard plenty of healthy discussion over the lunch table or even randomly in offices but nobody ever gets pissed at anybody else over their differing beliefs. I personally just don't take super-strong views on things regardless of how I feel about it. I find it's often when people get into the super-opinionated conversations (especially ones that feel like they have no middle ground) that things generally start to fall apart.
I guess this depends on where you are but at my firm you’d be considered a racist, sexist, and all kinds of “ists” if you came out as a Trump supporter. The firm also openly condemns Trump and his anti immigrant policies. My understanding is that this is common in biglaw firms in liberal cities.

I would never talk about politics at work. There is nothing to be gained from it.

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Re: Talking politics at work: guidelines? Guidance?

Post by lolwat » Mon Nov 11, 2019 1:58 pm

I guess this depends on where you are but at my firm you’d be considered a racist, sexist, and all kinds of “ists” if you came out as a Trump supporter. The firm also openly condemns Trump and his anti immigrant policies. My understanding is that this is common in biglaw firms in liberal cities.

I would never talk about politics at work. There is nothing to be gained from it.
Well, yes, my general advice would be to not talk about politics at all, especially if you have to question whether you should talk about it to begin with. But the more nuanced advice is to feel out your firm's culture. At some places, it's difficult to avoid because everyone ends up talking about politics at some point or another. I suppose part of the reason no one has gotten into any fights at my firm is because it's a fairly small firm where most people have known each other for long enough that there's a culture of civilized political discussions even though some people clearly disagree with others. I would probably never (willingly) talk politics at a biglaw firm, and certainly not one like yours.

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Re: Talking politics at work: guidelines? Guidance?

Post by ymmv » Mon Nov 11, 2019 2:00 pm

Develop such a deeply understated layer of irony in your speech patterns that no one can ever tell if you're expressing a sincere belief in the first place.

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Re: Talking politics at work: guidelines? Guidance?

Post by ymmv » Mon Nov 11, 2019 2:26 pm

More seriously, just about anything you can work on in a legal setting is laden with political meaning, and my experience is lawyers talking pretty freely about this stuff during downtime. On a case you usually have a pretty clear goal as a client advocate, and metacommentary might be irrelevant, but I’ve never known attorneys of any stripes to shy away from water cooler opinion sharing. Obviously with bosses it’s a tighter judgment call than with coworkers. I’m not like a font of unsolicited opinions in those moments; if someone with supervisor power over me expresses garbage beliefs I’m likely just to express mild discomfort through nonverbal cues and try to change the subject. If they keep pushing or are actively trying to get me to sanction their statements, I’ll disagree briefly and again keep trying to move on. If they want to push something incendiary into argument territory, that’s their call. How far I’m willing to go in responding depends what the argument’s over.

Like my reaction is going to be extremely different between someone with authority expressing disagreement over, idk, executive/congressional separation of powers vs. them expressing hateful options of trans people. Everyone picks their battles in life. Gotta decide for yourself what you care about enough to risk a little workplace discomfort displaced back on someone other than yourself. And take into consideration who else at your workplace is affected by your silence, in the case of subjects like bigotry.

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Re: Talking politics at work: guidelines? Guidance?

Post by Jubo » Mon Nov 11, 2019 5:51 pm

I talk politics with people +/- (currently only +) 2 class years.

Haven't had unsolicited politics talked forced upon me by a more senior att'y yet, but in the event it happens, I'm prob just gonna smile and nod.

I can't imagine any of the senior attorneys being backwards enough to whine about gender neutral bathrooms as destroying American values, but if I were at a firm where this happens with impunity, I'd lateral.

I'm happy to engage in good faith legal discussion about administrative overreach or the constitutionality of XYZ w/ a more senior associate in a casual setting, I guess.

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Re: Talking politics at work: guidelines? Guidance?

Post by Guest » Mon Nov 11, 2019 11:26 pm

ymmv wrote:
Mon Nov 11, 2019 2:26 pm
More seriously, just about anything you can work on in a legal setting is laden with political meaning, and my experience is lawyers talking pretty freely about this stuff during downtime. On a case you usually have a pretty clear goal as a client advocate, and metacommentary might be irrelevant, but I’ve never known attorneys of any stripes to shy away from water cooler opinion sharing. Obviously with bosses it’s a tighter judgment call than with coworkers. I’m not like a font of unsolicited opinions in those moments; if someone with supervisor power over me expresses garbage beliefs I’m likely just to express mild discomfort through nonverbal cues and try to change the subject. If they keep pushing or are actively trying to get me to sanction their statements, I’ll disagree briefly and again keep trying to move on. If they want to push something incendiary into argument territory, that’s their call. How far I’m willing to go in responding depends what the argument’s over.

Like my reaction is going to be extremely different between someone with authority expressing disagreement over, idk, executive/congressional separation of powers vs. them expressing hateful options of trans people. Everyone picks their battles in life. Gotta decide for yourself what you care about enough to risk a little workplace discomfort displaced back on someone other than yourself. And take into consideration who else at your workplace is affected by your silence, in the case of subjects like bigotry.
Prior Guest OP here. At my firm, simply supporting the current president would be seen as “hating trans people” or hating black people. I honestly think this is the norm in major big law firms in my tier one city. The only acceptable conservative views are “pre-Trump” libertarian conservative views, like supporting tax cuts, and even those are pushing it. Anything remotely traditionalist or nationalist is seen as bigotry.

My advice to people is to never engage in political discussion, no matter what side you’re on, at least not until the current climate cools down. Other than the very senior partners you don’t know what people actually think. Most biglawyers are risk adverse yes men and may nod their head even if they disagree deep down. If you are obnoxiously liberal, you may be annoying people who are just going with the flow and don’t want to say anything in public.

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Re: Talking politics at work: guidelines? Guidance?

Post by ymmv » Mon Nov 11, 2019 11:32 pm

I mean if I were a Trump supporter I too would be deeply ashamed for anyone to find out.

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Re: Talking politics at work: guidelines? Guidance?

Post by UVA2B » Mon Nov 11, 2019 11:43 pm

Guest OP, do you have a rational basis to attribute those views to your peers? Or is it mostly perceived?

You're making pretty grand pronouncements about supporting the current president, and I'm just not convinced it's true. If you're worried about your political views enough to shield them from others, maybe your views aren't compatible with the people you associate with. And maybe that means you should reconsider those thoughts. But even if your views are true/valid, I can't imagine you are being ostracized because the political climate can't suffer your views.

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Re: Talking politics at work: guidelines? Guidance?

Post by Nony » Tue Nov 12, 2019 6:54 am

I can’t say what biglaw lawyers think, but I’ve definitely come across the belief that supporting Trump = hating trans people/people of color etc. But I’m not sure this is really relevant to the original question - I didn’t get the sense that the OP was a Trumper trying to figure out how to get by so much as concerned about all varieties of political talk.

The simple answer (for me) is that it’s never a good idea to discuss highly divisive topics with co-workers who disagree with you. There are some people in my office I avoid ever talking politics with, because I know we strongly disagree. There are some people I talk politics with to some extent because I know we do agree. Often people will make references/allusions that you can follow up on or not. So personally I try to read my colleagues and tipping into political talk is fine sometimes and not fine other times.

Mostly I haven’t found it a problem handling it that way. I agree with ymmv that my reaction will depend on what the other person is saying (though honestly also their position, like with the OP’s partner. I clerked for a judge with v different opinions from mine and wasn’t about to push back, to be honest. That said, the judge was pretty good about not getting political. I did push back with the career clerk, but they welcomed/started political discussions. And there was one somewhat awkward argument about a local trans high school student with the career clerk AND the JA and courtroom deputy, but certain things I’m not willing to let slide). I think you just have to 1) read the room and 2) pick your battles.

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Re: Talking politics at work: guidelines? Guidance?

Post by Guest » Tue Nov 12, 2019 9:57 am

UVA2B wrote:
Mon Nov 11, 2019 11:43 pm
Guest OP, do you have a rational basis to attribute those views to your peers? Or is it mostly perceived?

You're making pretty grand pronouncements about supporting the current president, and I'm just not convinced it's true. If you're worried about your political views enough to shield them from others, maybe your views aren't compatible with the people you associate with. And maybe that means you should reconsider those thoughts. But even if your views are true/valid, I can't imagine you are being ostracized because the political climate can't suffer your views.
Guest OP here. I'm not ostracized, I get along fine with my coworkers and I find other things to talk about with them. I like my firm and my job. My post was simply advice for people who are not in line with standard liberal orthodoxy and are planning to work in biglaw. I realize it's not totally relevant to the OP.

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Re: Talking politics at work: guidelines? Guidance?

Post by lolwat » Tue Nov 12, 2019 10:26 am

I can’t say what biglaw lawyers think, but I’ve definitely come across the belief that supporting Trump = hating trans people/people of color etc.
Yeah. I can't imagine this is a surprise to anybody. Certain topics and certain people are just incredibly divisive in our current climate and can cause people to come to conclusions about things. Read the room and pick your battles = the best advice here, as I think you absolutely can talk about certain things with certain people, but also should avoid at any costs talking about certain other things with certain other people.

I happen to have views that practically everybody on every side can find reasons to hate so I just avoid talking about them at all and stick to very broad generalizations when topics come up or otherwise just poke fun at little things that I know nobody at my firm would take offense at (covfefe, hamberders, etc.).

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Re: Talking politics at work: guidelines? Guidance?

Post by pancakes3 » Tue Nov 12, 2019 10:50 am

you can be a republican and not support trump.

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Re: Talking politics at work: guidelines? Guidance?

Post by Nony » Tue Nov 12, 2019 12:18 pm

pancakes3 wrote:
Tue Nov 12, 2019 10:50 am
you can be a republican and not support trump.
Absolutely. One of my politics-chat colleagues is exactly that.

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Re: Talking politics at work: guidelines? Guidance?

Post by lolwat » Tue Nov 12, 2019 1:20 pm

Nony wrote:
Tue Nov 12, 2019 12:18 pm
pancakes3 wrote:
Tue Nov 12, 2019 10:50 am
you can be a republican and not support trump.
Absolutely. One of my politics-chat colleagues is exactly that.
I think most of the republicans I talk to regularly are also that.

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Re: Talking politics at work: guidelines? Guidance?

Post by Jubo » Tue Nov 12, 2019 1:33 pm

I mean ugh why can't I just advocate for simple eugenics and mandatory euthanization for all men under 5'10'' without being called ugly names and shunned by my peers ugh.

How about responding to my ARGUMENT with RATIONAL RESPONSES instead of calling me a "crazy person" or "bigot"?!?!?!!!?
Last edited by Jubo on Tue Nov 12, 2019 1:46 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: Talking politics at work: guidelines? Guidance?

Post by pancakes3 » Tue Nov 12, 2019 1:45 pm

FedSoc. Draw your own conclusions.

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Re: Talking politics at work: guidelines? Guidance?

Post by jeff chiles » Tue Nov 12, 2019 1:47 pm

The bigger issue is feeling like you have nothing interesting to talk about other than politics. Idk if you’re giving yourself enough credit but there have to be some other things, even seemingly dull things, to talk about at work other than politics.

Like I’ve always been the go to guy at work to talk about fast food with. It’s not an exciting thing to some people and it can be divisive but usually in a more good natured way than politics.

And you can always just do work and go home and not talk a lot but that’s kind of lame especially if you have social coworkers.

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Re: Talking politics at work: guidelines? Guidance?

Post by lolwat » Tue Nov 12, 2019 2:36 pm

Jubo wrote:
Tue Nov 12, 2019 1:33 pm
I mean ugh why can't I just advocate for simple eugenics and mandatory euthanization for all men under 5'10'' without being called ugly names and shunned by my peers ugh.

How about responding to my ARGUMENT with RATIONAL RESPONSES instead of calling me a "crazy person" or "bigot"?!?!?!!!?
There's a lot of gray area in the middle and a lot you can talk about without getting in trouble, but I think there are just some things you can't believe in--or not believe in--and not be labeled some type of something bad by one side or another. It's not even about arguments or "debate me" or anything like that.
The bigger issue is feeling like you have nothing interesting to talk about other than politics. Idk if you’re giving yourself enough credit but there have to be some other things, even seemingly dull things, to talk about at work other than politics.

Like I’ve always been the go to guy at work to talk about fast food with. It’s not an exciting thing to some people and it can be divisive but usually in a more good natured way than politics.
This is certainly true, but sometimes peoples' interests just diverge too much. 95% of my conversations with people here are about ongoing cases or food. There are also a few people here I can talk about video games and such with. In general though with people that I don't have a ton in common with (often due to interests and generational gaps) politics are like low-hanging fruit for conversation even though it's so dangerous, just because every other day there's something relatively newsworthy going on there.

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Re: Talking politics at work: guidelines? Guidance?

Post by Jubo » Tue Nov 12, 2019 2:53 pm

lolwat wrote:
Tue Nov 12, 2019 2:36 pm
Jubo wrote:
Tue Nov 12, 2019 1:33 pm
I mean ugh why can't I just advocate for simple eugenics and mandatory euthanization for all men under 5'10'' without being called ugly names and shunned by my peers ugh.

How about responding to my ARGUMENT with RATIONAL RESPONSES instead of calling me a "crazy person" or "bigot"?!?!?!!!?
There's a lot of gray area in the middle and a lot you can talk about without getting in trouble, but I think there are just some things you can't believe in--or not believe in--and not be labeled some type of something bad by one side or another. It's not even about arguments or "debate me" or anything like that.
I'm just making fun of Trump supporters who whine about being persecuted. Of course there's a lot of mileage between Trump Supporter and liberal, and it's okay to have opinions about executive overreach in a vacuum (but not okay to only complain about executive overreach re: gay marriage and not executive overreach re: build the wall).

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Re: Talking politics at work: guidelines? Guidance?

Post by Desert Fox » Tue Nov 12, 2019 5:29 pm

I always just parrot back whatever the person talking about politics says without really saying much definitively.

Half my firm thinks I'm lib and half conservahero.

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