This could very well be on the workplace, but I'm looking for a IPS solution that will help me deal with this since the usual workplace advice ("Look for a new job") won't help me in this case.

I have a superior at my job who sometimes launches into angry xenophobic rants. Suffice to say, it is not pretty.

Sometimes he just starts them when talking to people. Sometimes in meetings. It seems to be whenever he feels like it. I've tried to avoid giving fuel by tiptoeing around topics that could set him off, but that has only mildly reduced the occurences.

I'm explicitly not in a position to openly rebut this person or go above their head since this behavior is known and begrudingly accepted by the rest of management. I also don't want to draw their ire since they're in a position directly superior to mine and I'm a junior at the company.

The other employees seem to deal with it by just not listening or enduring these rants when they come up.

I'm looking for social techniques or tricks to prevent or prematurely end someone's xenophobic rants without having to just listen and say nothing. Ideally this would work without alienating or enraging said person, and it needs to work without being forceful (the person reacts extremely poorly to that).

For the context of this question please assume that I do not wish to pursue legal action against the individual and workplace solutions like reporting to HR aren't viable options.

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    The dangerous thing is that while the boss is off limits for HR, anything that can be interpreted as participating in his rants could come back to you negatively. – pmf Nov 16 '17 at 9:56
up vote 130 down vote accepted

Something that worked for me, when I was working in construction, was to subtly redirect the rant. It was effective against a wide variety of divisive rants and it has helped me survive a number of US election cycles since then.

A person on a hateful rant usually doesn't care so much about what kind of hateful rant it is, so if you drop a bug in their ear about something else they hate when they're just getting started you can often perform a sort of hateful rant judo.

It sort of looks like this:

Ranter- Those damn immigrants rabble rabble rabble...
Me- Wait, did you see what [Most hated client] is asking for now? What the hell are they thinking?
Ranter- Let me tell you about [Most hated client] rabble rabble rabble!

It seems to work pretty well most of the time. It also helps a little bit with workplace solidarity. Most workplaces have a common enemy, in the form of an obnoxious client, or supplier or what have you... When people vent and joke together about a common frustration it can help to ease that frustration and helps them to relate to each other over something fairly harmless.

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    I really like the pragmatism of this answer, especially the term 'hateful rant judo'. – Danikov Nov 14 '17 at 16:20
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    @Danikov Thanks, I thought the term made sense as you're not nearly stopping their force, or energy, you're just redirecting it. – apaul Nov 14 '17 at 16:22
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    @Danikov that sounds more like aikido then judo, but... actually nevermind. – Amani Kilumanga Nov 15 '17 at 0:47
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    Depending on OP's industry, might work very well with a competitor company too. We often do that at work. Ranting about competitor's in private is always cool, there's no risk your superior will be mad at you for trash talking a competitor (while they may be angry if you do so about an important client, or important supplier you can't afford to lose) – Kaël Nov 15 '17 at 8:29
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    @Robert Harvey Granted ranting is ranting and ranting about anything can stink, but redirecting a rant to a less divisive topic tends to make things slightly more tolerable. Think of it as replacing rotten eggs with bad cologne. – apaul Nov 15 '17 at 15:52

This is at work, so don't you have work to do? Just say that, "Excuse me, but I've got to get back to work."

Keep all conversations work-related, and you should be ok. If a work conversation takes a left turn to any unrelated topic, either ask a question about work to get it back on track, or deliver your "I've got work to do" line and get back to work ;-)

You don't really need any other "social techniques or tricks" since being at work is the ultimate trump card. You could switch to "I've got to go to the bathroom" if you wanted, that works everywhere. Or if they're saying really crazy stuff, have a conversation with someone at HR.

There's probably no good way to "prematurely end" anyone's rant, since they're rarely done with the intent of having an open discussion, and facts - real or "fake" - will just be deflected like water off a duck's back. It doesn't sound like this boss is your friend, so you could theoretically just be rude & say "that's dumb, and you're dumb for saying it" but that almost guarantees the alienating rage you'd like to avoid, and generally being rude sucks.


(Conspiracy theory: Your boss is really testing everyone by saying controversial things, and seeing who will stand up to them & offer differing opinions - separating the spines for promotion, from the jellyfish. But test that theory at the risk of your paycheque)

On single occasions you could try to shift his focus by asking him a direct question.

rant rant rant - Hey, sorry to interrupt but I just remembered, what was the status on sales item X again?

But if he does these rants a lot, and you always try to deflect, he will notice and may carry the conflict you are trying to avoid to you. So the best advice would probably be to make it clear that you are not willing to endure those rants. You employer might put up with it because nobody cares enough to make a fuss. If he has to intervene, because you do, this might look different. Best case scenario: there will be only professional professional talking between you two.

Two suggestions (or variations on the same theme):

The idea is, do what you were going to do anyway, and when his stuff gets in the way of it, say simply that you're concentrating on X and please, you need quiet to focus on your work. If needed, repeat this again (and again) without elaboration, until heard.

It could be work you get back to, or a meeting, or that toilet break you suddenly needed, or the pencil you promised to return (or phone call you promised to make) by 3.26pm. Whatever :)

If he tries it during an interaction with you, do the same but slightly modified ("Now I need to get going and work on these").

Your question relates to many other questions here, about dealing with a person who doesn't stop talking and you need to break the conversation. The simple version is, do what you need to do, as if he's agreeing and happy with it, if he tries to draw you back into it, just say "Sorry, I need to X", and say it as a statement, not a tone of voice that says "... please say it's okay". He won't agree, so just act as if he did. He probably won't chase you or call you on it, if he does just repeat that you need to do X. If he says you don't, explain (find a reason!) why you do.

I've used this on angry ranters for years. Stay cool, don't attack them, make clear you are doing your stuff, minimise any reward they get of you stopping to pay attention. Continue making coffee at the same time if it's in the office kitchen, then leave with it as one usually does. Sit down and work if he's behind you, and if he's still there in 2 minutes just say "sorry, I need quiet to do this, its hard to listen and be sure I'm doing my job properly." If its after work at the pub, there is surely someone else you need to be in a conversation with.

If all else fails, pull out the phone, just say "excuse me" without making it a question, and dial a friend or someone you can make a work call to. Once answered, pay all attention to the phone, and after a few seconds drift away from him to hear the call more clearly.....

Basically this is denying him the reward (attention) without being rude. It works very well.

Its important to "just say it". Almost a monotone, like you're saying "here's the paper" or whatever. Not an emotional thing. That's an important part of it. It just happens that you have to work (or whatever), or that you're busy when he's ranting. Keep the tone neutral and the words brief, don't elaborate or get sucked into justifying, don't ask or imply you are asking anything, if he doesn't act better just repeat identically without any more detail or emphasis, and then try to carry on again. If he repeats, you pause, repeat same words (not adding anything) then turn back to your work having given him barely a second or two. Repeat as long as he repeats. (It'll win fairly fast in almost all cases, because it gives no attention but also, no justification or pretext to escalate on his part either).

As an aside, demanding attention without regard to whether its wanted, is a feature in many forms of abuse; abuser tactics often include demanding or wheedling attention, or guilt/anger/different tactics to get it. Look that aspect up as well, because it may be others do it and you might want to be aware if so.

I'd ramp it up to the next level. You can't disagree, so just take off with their ideas and make them absurd. Talk about how the real problem is that the crab people are currently gathering their forces and are about to come pouring out of the ground to take us over.

It'd be better if you just didn't let this other person affect you, but I'm assuming if you had the ability to do that you wouldn't be asking this question. Given that assumption, I'd say just have fun with it.

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    sometimes the best reply is to counter argue with an equally absurd or overly dramatic response. While this does not always work, most people who are capable of thinking will realize how silly they sound as well. – ggiaquin16 Nov 15 '17 at 23:10
  • It will help if you pepper in the occasional, "I hate to waste time at work talking about this, but it really is important that we be ready for when the crab people emerge." Annoy him enough and he'll agree with you, cutting you off after one of the times you point out how you hate to have this conversation at work. – David Schwartz Nov 16 '17 at 10:58
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    People can tell when they are being blatantly mocked, and this doesn't sound like someone who will like it. That's often fine, but not when the issue is a work superior who cannot be avoided and can influence ones working environment and job. Good solution in some cases, marking down in this one because I don't think it's a good match for this OP's stated position. He wants specifically to avoid issues, and this has too high a risk of encouraging antipathy or low grade annoyance that might have an effect. – Stilez Nov 17 '17 at 5:52
  • @stilez All good, certainly don't disagree. The point is definitely for them to know they're being mocked, and I'm suggesting you do it precisely because they don't like it. I personally wouldn't be bothered by the situation in the first place, I just think it sounds like the individual in question here would absolutely lose his mind if someone started doing this, and I think it would be hysterical to observe the process. If your job options are restricted to this one position with this one company that's a bigger problem that has nothing to do with a superior. – the_SJC Nov 17 '17 at 15:31
  • Yeah. But the OP is setting the parameters and they definitely exclude ripping off the manager, causing work issues or stress, or risking making it more difficult, however much I personally might agree with you that it would be perfect and hilarious for others in his/her shoes. – Stilez Nov 18 '17 at 18:17

You're not in a good position. Since it's your superior, challenging them or arguing with them would be a career-limiting move. On the other hand, appearing to be too much in agreement may also be career-limiting.

It sounds like you aren't particularly close.

All of these factors limit your options. If this person respects you or appears to listen to what you say, perhaps a private discussion may be in order. I'd suggest framing the discussion in terms of its effect on you: "hey boss, that discussion we had on people from slobbovia really made me uncomfortable, since my parents are immigrants. I understand how you feel, but can we somehow change the topic?" Give them the power, personalize it a little bit, and see if they won't work toward a solution.

I'd note that you most likely will never change that person's mind, so I don't suggest trying at this point. Strongly held beliefs are very difficult to change and risking your position there may not be worth it right now.

Now... for interpersonal actions to take. This is where you can find others who agree with you, without appearing to stir up trouble. Find one or two people who are often in these meetings, and prepare some important issues that will need to be dealt with. That way it's not just you. When boss starts ranting, bring up one of these important issues. "Stupid slobbovians, coming in and..." "Hey boss, sorry to interrupt, but I've got a message from Accounting regarding rights to PeachTree." "sorry to interrupt, but I've got access requests from this entire group. how do we want to handle this?" "There's an upgrade coming up for this critical piece of software; how do we want to proceed?" "I heard rumors that we may all need to move - how do we want to handle that?" "Got a quick question for you: a couple of us are thinking of signing up for night school to learn [X]. Since we're all here, is there a process to get tuition reimbursement?" Have it be something that they know a lot about, and make it appear urgent. You don't need to be a jerk about it (one of them in a meeting is enough) but framing a more urgent question that they believe themselves to be experts about may break the train of thought.

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