How to Stop a Conversation You Don't Want to Have

By Lindsey Novak

February 27, 2020 4 min read

Q: I like to maintain a low profile with those I work with, but I have one co-worker who always has an agenda. She may not realize it, but it's to the point of greatly irritating me. She continually tries to convert me to her beliefs. In doing this, it completely denies me holding my beliefs, which I prefer to not discuss with anyone. I believe in God and Jesus, and she does not.

I think this is not an appropriate conversation for anyone to have at work or in personal conversation. There are certain topics that should remain personal. I find her conversation offensive, so each time she brings it up, I politely sidestep it. When I've tried being direct and explaining I have different beliefs than she does, she refuses to hear what I'm saying.

I don't know how to shut her up without being rude, speaking loudly or being verbally forceful. I have to work with her, so I will not complain to anyone. I see that as gossip, or worse yet, backbiting, if I report her to the organization. I believe it's wrong to do anything to jeopardize her job. I never try to convert her to Christianity, and I don't want to hear about how I should give her beliefs a chance. I just want to stop her from trying to interfere with and control my life. It's like listening to a salesperson who refuses to stop selling.

Please help. I am open to all suggestions other than registering a complaint or behaving in a way that turns me into the type of person I don't want to be. I like to deal with people directly, and being two-faced is wrong. Too many people engage in backbiting, and I will not be one of them.

A: You should never have to resort to rudeness, sarcasm or underhanded, backbiting behavior to get a message across. The question to ask is why this woman refuses to listen to you. If these conversations take place in passing or during breaks or lunchtimes, she may lack social skills and have only this one interest. For someone who seems obsessed with beliefs and religious practices, she may want to talk to you but simply have nothing else to discuss.

Most people have outside interests and activities, but for those who don't have rich personal lives filled with friendships and activities, life can be very limited. Though you see her as challenging you, it may be her only way of creating a connection. If you view the situation with empathy for her limited life, you may be able to change your perspective.

When a co-worker asks you a question outside of work responsibilities, you do not have to answer. Rather than responding defensively, do a 180-degree switch. Respond with an unrelated subject on whatever you choose to discuss. If she asks you to attend a meeting or class sponsored by her group, mention a new restaurant you tried, the dinner you made last night or a new store in the area.

Doing this every time she proselytizes will help to change her mind's focus. In a normal conversation, this behavior would seem flaky, but this is not a typical situation. She should eventually catch on, even if she is slow, that you will not talk about religious beliefs or practices. This type of communication may seem odd, but it should work with a person who lacks social skills or has a one-track mind. If she talks about your subject of choice, you may realize she wants to connect socially with you but doesn't know how.

If switching topics doesn't deter her, say you will never discuss that subject, period. Say no more. Let her focus on that one statement. When you deliver a critical message, be firm and serious. Your facial expression must show you mean business if you want your message to be understood.

Email career and life coach: [email protected] with your workplace problems and issues. Ms. Novak responds to all emails. For more information, visit www.lindseynovak.com and for past columns, see www.creators.com/read/At-Work-Lindsey-Novak.

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