A Loud Political Insider

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about coworker with loud political opinions:

By the way, I love the Workplace Doctors Column. I’ve been reading it for a few years now, but I never thought I’d be asking a question, so here goes. I’ve never dealt with a situation quite like this in more than 20 years of office-type work. I’ve been located in all different types of work environments (in open-office work areas, regular cubes, regular offices) and I’ve successfully worked alongside many different types of people. But never one quite like this. Within the past several months, an employee from another section within my division moved to the office next to me. By the way, these are technically offices, but the walls are very, very thin. Even when a person next to you closes his/her door, you can basically hear everything. So, the gentleman who moved next to me is a senior staff member (once in a management position) who is quite loud, in general.

A couple of weeks ago, I politely mentioned to him that his using a speaker phone to listen to his voice mail (with his door open) was a little disruptive to me, and the noise level has gone down a bit–I can tell that he’s making an effort to be quieter, and that’s great. Now, for the other problem. He obviously loves discussing his political opinions with others, either on the phone, or with other people in his office. I should mention that this is well known within the division. Obviously, I don’t agree with his opinions; otherwise, I may not be writing this, I suppose. To me, this is a bit of a touchy situation, because the latest, long phone conversation (this morning) first started with his door open, but then he closed the door. Unfortunately, as I mentioned earlier, I could still hear everything.

I guess what I’m looking for from your site is an opinion about whether I should mention to him that I find his political opinions offensive, or should I try to find a way to ignore them, such as using a fan or other object in my office as a way to diffuse the noise? I understand that the bottom line is whether this is disruptive to the work environment, and I have to kind of say that it is, a little. I have mentioned this to my supervisor, by the way, and I believe that at one point his supervisor said something to him about the level of noise, but not the political discussion. At that time (before I confronted him directly), things got a bit better, but not for long. I just want to maintain a professional atmosphere, and I don’t want to be confrontational, but I also want to keep my sanity! Thanks for any advice that you can offer to me on this.

Signed, Politically Differ

Dear Politically Differ:

I think you know the answer to your question. Unless your office neighbor invites you to comment on his political views, avoid saying anything about them. However, ignore this common sense advice, say, “John, I can’t help overhearing how fascinated you are with Sarah Palin (or whomever he admires). How can you stand that woman? You’re a smart guy, but she makes you look bad.” So jump in if you like to debate. You know he enjoys such talk. Of course you know I’m kidding. That would only distract from what you’re hired to do.

Apparently, you don’t have work area meetings; skull sessions to talk about ways to improve customer service, cut wasted supplies, time, energy, money, innovate, and coordinate what your group does with others in your company.

One of the questions I propose work groups should ask from time to time and collaboratively answer is: How well are we communicating and are there ways we might make our communication more effective? Such a question works wonders; it generates talk about talk and that entails talk about working conditions. In your case it would most likely lead to talk about paper thin partitions and how to deal with noise. White noise, fans, and ear plugs might help. Also it might help to request a move to another side of the room or down the hall. Working together with hands, head, and heart takes and makes big WEGOS, and to be sure, your goal is not to make anyone look bad. Whatever you elect to do you want to save face for your neighbor. So rack that brain to be empathic yet speak with a firm voice.

William Gorden