I’ve had lunch daily with the same three co-workers for almost four years. We share everything and have stayed close through my divorce, one coworker’s two pregnancies and another’s new marriage.
We don’t share the same political views. I support Trump even though I think he’s a bully and totally missed it on COVID. They both like Biden even though he wasn’t their first or even second choice. It really comes down to who each of us dislikes more.
Everything changed when Biden picked Harris. Before that, I’d kept my mouth shut and simply answered, “I don’t like either of them” when asked a political question. With Harris in the equation and Biden looking like he’s losing it which means she’ll really run things, they’re gung-ho Biden. When they forced me to say I wasn’t sure who I’d vote for, one of them asked in a really hostile voice, “What are you scared of? You Republicans demonize Democrats.”
I told that I simply liked Pence better than Harris. That didn’t go down well, as Pence won’t have the power Harris does.
The next day the three went to the gym after work without inviting me. Last week, they shared take-out in the breakroom. When I joined them saying I’d brought my lunch too, and we wound up fighting. The next day I again “crashed” their break room get together and it was even worse. Instead of talking, everyone just ate and it was agonizingly chilly.
Fast forward to this week. I again “crashed” their break room lunch and said, “I’m still the same person. Why can’t you accept that I have different views?” They got angry and one said, “He’s ruined our country and if you don’t get that, maybe I don’t know you anymore.”
I don’t know how to fix this, without pretending I’ll vote Biden and even that might not work at this point.
The four of you created a work family, an “us.” Your co-workers now see you as “them.” They appear to hold you individually accountable for Trump’s actions — something that’s happening in workplaces and families throughout the country.
We’ve become increasingly polarized as a nation, split into the “in group” (you think like me) and the “out group.” Iyengar and Westwood’s landmark treatise, “Fear and Loathing across Party Lines,” documents that those in the “in group” consider hostile treatment toward those who oppose their beliefs acceptable.
Here’s what you can do.
Allow your former work family cooling off time, as what you say to defend yourself may temporarily make things worse. Ultimately you have a shared history that goes beyond politics.
Don’t let your work family isolate you. Despite the walls they’ve built, greet them professionally and use your shared history to initiate conversations about matters of common concern.
If politics comes up, either exit the conversation or practice “hungry listening” to learn and understand your friends’ views. In other words, confront this polarization before it metastasizes.
© 2020, Lynne Curry
Lynne Curry is the author of “Beating the Workplace Bully” (AMACOM, 2016) and “Solutions” (both books are rated 4.8 out of 5 stars on Amazon.com). Send your questions to her at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on twitter @lynnecurry10.