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How to deal with people who bring up controversial subjects at work

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I don’t know why, but people seem to love to bring up controversial subjects at work. It doesn’t help anyone to do this.

In one position I had a coworker who said some very ignorant things about climate change. I was stunned to hear this kind of ignorance and I was at a loss at how to respond. That person was higher up on the food chain than me and I knew that if I argued they would hold it against me. I didn’t respond and just said that I had an important task to do which I did and left.

Another time I had a coworker bring up an ignorant and hateful political person as a role model. I didn’t know what to say. I do not argue with people. People are free to believe whatever they want. I said to that person that if they would like to discuss this then we could have lunch and discuss it but I didn’t have time to address this during the workday. This is absolutely true. That person didn’t speak further on this subject with me or want to go out to lunch. We weren’t particularly close so I felt like this person was just testing the waters with me.

In another position, I was told that a person was upset about a political situation with someone who is hateful. I was stunned that they thought that person should even be listened to much less respected. You can respect people and you can listen to them but when their entire lives are about hate there is nothing that I need to engage with. That person never felt comfortable with me, which is fine you can’t win everyone over. I did find ways to improve the quality of her work life and I did my job as I was paid to do.

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In another position I had people bring up religious conversations and as long as they were respectful and not trying to convert me I would engage with them in a one-to-one conversation. I don’t mind talking to people who are respectful and can understand that their point of view isn’t your point of view and that is ok.

Controversial subjects are just like gossip in the workplace. I don’t engage in gossip in the workplace and that has made people feel that I am aloof and above politics. I am not aloof but work is not high school. If people want to act in emotional and petty ways and punish me for not gossiping about others that is the wrong place for me to work. When someone tries to gossip with me I tell them straight up that I don’t talk about other people and I don’t want to hear about other people.

These are my strategies to deal with people who try to sow division and hate. Good luck!