Editor's note: Inc.com columnist Alison Green answers questions about workplace and management issues -- everything from how to deal with a micromanaging boss to how to talk to someone on your team about body odor.

A reader asks:

I'm a grad student interning at an apolitical government agency. In an effort to make conversation with one of the permanent staff members on my team, we got to talking about our respective collections (he collects coins, I collect political campaign buttons). I regret telling him this, however, because now he has taken to quizzing me each day on obscure U.S. political history. This behavior is a little annoying because it makes me feel like I'm constantly being forced to prove myself in a capacity that has nothing to do with my job performance, but I can write it off as an awkward effort to be social.

What is becoming progressively more annoying is that these quizzes and conversations are venturing into clearly partisan territory. For example, he asked me to take this misleading (and debunked by several reputable fact-checking organizations) "quiz" he'd printed off of a right-wing website, makes snide offhand comments about liberal elected officials, and tries to start conversations with me about things like the Supreme Court case on birth control and the racially problematic mascots of major league sports teams. I'm a politically aware person and generally have no problem having discussions about political issues, but I am uncomfortable doing so with a superior in an apolitical, nonpartisan office, especially because it is clear that we are at opposite ends of the political spectrum. I've taken to trying to avoid his questions, or answering them as neutrally as I can, and occasionally feigning ignorance or changing the subject when he makes his more extreme statements, but I worry that makes me come off as ditzy, poorly informed, and/or apathetic, particularly since I am a young woman.

How should I handle this situation? Should I stop keeping my liberal opinions to myself? Just deal with it? Or is there a way to tactfully ask him to stop putting me in the hot seat?

Green responds:

Some options:

  • "Hey Bob, our politics are very different, so let's stick to the history quizzes."
  • "Hey Bob, I feel very uncomfortable when you bring up political topics, because our views are different and I'm not comfortable debating them at work."
  • "We're at opposite ends of the political spectrum, and I'm not comfortable talking politics at work, especially with someone I'm hoping will give me a reference in the future."

If it continues after a couple of these, then get more pointed:

  • "I'm banning political discussions between us."
  • "Ack, politics again. Time for me to get back to work."

If you stick to refusing to engage, he'll have to either back off or become so aggressive about forcing politics on you that at that point you can ask your manager for advice about how to handle him. Which would be an entirely legitimate and reasonable thing to do at that stage, since you'll have already tried to handle it yourself and Bob's behavior would have crossed the line into disruptive and inappropriate.

But try just asserting yourself first and see if that solves it.

Want to submit a question of your own? Send it to alison@askamanager.org.