How to respond to bigots at work

A friend of Fred Clark’s has a constructive way of dealing with bigotry when she confronts it from a client at work:

Occasionally, those conversations take a turn that makes her uncomfortable, suddenly switching into a category we might describe as white people talking to white people when they’re sure there’s no one but white people around. She’s had clients blurt out some appalling things, hateful, ignorant, infuriating statements about African Americans, Asians, Hispanics, gays … you name it. In another context, a non-work setting, their comments would likely have prompted a sharp rebuke from my friend, likely something withering, pointed and laced with just the right amount of profanity.

But that sort of response isn’t an option in the context of her work, where she’s required to keep her cool, to be unfailingly polite, friendly and cheerful. In that context, she’s developed some various other ways of responding. One trick she sometimes uses is to talk about food.

That doesn’t apply in every case, but it works pretty well, for example, for transforming the dynamic of a conversation in which some client has expressed their fear, unease, or flat-out, bald-faced, xenophobic hate in response to the number of South Asian immigrants in our area. My friend acts as though she completely missed the unambiguous animosity of her client’s comment and begins to gush, with cheerful enthusiasm, about the many excellent Indian restaurants in the area and about her one client — lovely woman, a biochemist — who gave her a family recipe for naan bread. Have you ever had naan? I mean the real stuff not store-bought it’s delicious you have to try it I could give you that recipe if you want I’ll bring it Thursday or samosas have you ever had really good samosas?

The baffled client finds himself off-balance, peppered with a series of yes-or-no questions about the wonders of South Asian cuisine as the conversation barrels on with an aggressively cheerful momentum all pointing to the undeniable fact that any true lover of good food would be much happier living around here than in some homogenous gastronomic wasteland with no access to the glorious contributions of so many different cultures. The bewildered bigot winds up unsure exactly what just happened but agreeing that, yes, he probably does owe it to himself to try the masala at the new place off the bypass.

What I like about this trick is the way it counters without confrontation, avoiding triggering the cognitive fight-or-flight impulse that cuts off any possibility of persuasion.

Clever, and undoubtedly effective. Useful technique to keep in mind.

(And yes, it’s getting to the point where you might just as well follow Clark’s excellent blog, if you’re not doing that already.)

7 responses to “How to respond to bigots at work

  1. There’s an often useful technique I was taught years ago when I worked in corporate sales. There’s not much chance of persuading someone to buy your product if you get into an argument with them. Even if you win on the merits, the guy is going to refuse to be persuaded just to show you who is boss.

    So, if my client got negative, I would hear him out, even encourage him to talk. But while that was going on, I would use my posture to non-verbally communicate disagreement. For instance, if he said something I disagreed with, I would cross my arms. If he persisted, I would tightly cross my legs too — and so forth. If he said anything positive, I would relax my posture a bit or nod agreement.

    Once he had talked himself out, he would sometimes thank me for listening to him, or even apologize a little bit for his views. When that happened, I knew he was open to persuasion and I often enough made the sale during the same visit.

  2. Second that – I’ve been reading Fred for years. I came for the Left Behind take-downs, but now I mostly skip those posts for the ones in between. A very strong moral voice for progressivism.

  3. Talking of Left Behind – and god, aren’t his responses to it brilliant? – I just discovered today Right Behind, where people try to write episodes from the LB world as if they were populated by believable human characters.

  4. Splatterbottom

    Unfortunately my workplace is infested with leftist bigots. They carry themselves with and air of supercilious superiority and visit their withering contempt on those who hold different opinions. They seem to relish making their intellectual inferiors uncomfortable. Any sign of discomfort only fires them up. After they have finished discussing their favourite restaurants and expensive holidays and start exhibiting their exquisite social consciences the best thing to do is to point to the bathroom as the appropriate place for them to continue wanking.

  5. “Unfortunately my workplace is infested with leftist bigots. They carry themselves with and air of supercilious superiority and visit their withering contempt on those who hold different opinions.”

    Ahhhh! Wingnuts, what vivid imaginations they have. SB sees commies every where, under the beds especially his own, along with his copy of “Mien Kamph” and his generous supply of KY Jell

    Yes SB I have experienced such supercilious superiority by wingnuts at work myself until I started my own business.Yep they would discuss such in depth issues as e.g., does the Queen take 1 or two lumps of sugar in her tea, does the prince wear pyjamas to bed.They would be overcome and in raptures just thinking about the Queens corgis and how they got their names., Yea wing nuts they’re just so whole some and clean.

    All those stories about Nazi’s, right wing juntas in the Americas the exploitation of people especially blacks, Well!!! It’s just a load of lies.

  6. What SB?? Really? Bigots?
    Surely, judging by your description, you mean “Leftist Chauvinist”.
    You know, that Elitist Wanking Superiority that all of us Leftists like to indulge in. It’s called Chauvinism and there’s no better word for it,

    Bigotry? Well that’s a different story altogether.
    That belongs to you and your cohort.


    Oh, and by the way!
    My contempt is never ‘withering’.
    It is always strong, steadfast and certain!!

  7. SB
    … infested with leftist bigots…supercilious superiority…withering contempt on … their intellectual inferiors … continue wanking

    Dammit – you were going so well… I thought you were about to go a whole post without me having to invoke Rule 34.
    Oh well…

    Ahhhh! Wingnuts, what vivid imaginations they have. SB sees commies every where, under the beds especially his own, along with his copy of “Mien Kamph” and his generous supply of KY Jell

    (hops up, flips A Certain Salute, sings lustily…)
    Grun, Grun über alles,
    Über alles in der Welt,
    Wenn es stets zu Schutz und Trutze
    Brüderlich zusammenhält.

    Marek, I think he meant that their contempt withered him… hence his exhaustion from merely indicating his favourite wankspot.

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