Should We Stop Talking Politics at Work?
We live in a changing world. But who's working to change it for the better on the bank of america original podcast that made all the difference host. Alicia burke sits down with scholars artists and advocates lonnie bunch secretary of the smithsonian museum and comey chung joe head of the los angeles chapter of asian americans advancing justice to discuss the moments that have defined the get the latest episode of that. Made all the difference. Wherever you get your podcast. What would you like the power to do today on the argument sweep ban politics from the office. I'm jane kirsten and as host of the show. I spend a lot of my time at work talking about politics. My bosses would be pretty mad if i refuse to talk about politics but not all bosses are saying after the trump era summer of protests over police brutality and a pandemic that's been politicized at return. It's been hard not to bring politics to work particularly when everything from parental leave to marriage. Benefits can be well and i've noticed that people spent more time talking about the news in remote times on slack which is arguably the worst place to talk about the news. There's been a backlash brewing. Companies are cracking down on debates at work maybe the most famous recent examples basecamp for co-founders jason and david hammer hansen. Who goes by. H took the extreme step of completely barring what they called societal and political discussions on their company-wide communications platform other companies have done something similar. Why do they care so much. What's the downside of debater discomfort at the office. My guest today have answers different answers. Liz will is a staff editor at reason and jonathan nightingale is an author and a founder of raw signal grip which trains leaders and managers. He was a vice president of fire. Fox set so it seems like it was thousands of years ago but it was april this year. Many millions of years that's went productivity software company named basecamp announced that employees should refrain from discussing societal politics at work because it could often get dark and be distracting. They argued that employees could use other systems. They could still tweet about politics. They could talk to each other on signal elsewhere and made the point. We are not a social impact company. They also ended what the ceo of basecamp research was paternalistic benefits like fitness stipends and allowances for education and the aftermath of this decision about twenty employees decided to leave and take buyouts out about sixty. So that's about a third of their workforce at the time and you both wrote responses to the base camp decision. There was a lot of conversation about it on twitter. As there is about many things was you said it was totally fine and kind of meshed with how you think about politics at work. Why i really look at base camps decision as a recusal more than anything else i think. They're drawing pretty reasonable lines. Some work issues are super inherently political lieber issues issues with pay gaps issues with god forbid workplace sexual harassment. And other stuff like that. And they're not saying that any of those things are for voting are off limits at all. They'd be running afoul like a gazillion labor laws. If they did what they're saying instead is that this sort of gratuitous political discussion is unrelated to the project that they're there to do together and i think that's really important. I think a lot of people really seek to make their workplace Place where they can be their whole selves where they can rely on their colleagues for support where they can talk about all these sort of unrelated issues where a lot of people disagree. And i think it's a really good thing for people to be able to especially in managerial positions. Draw some of these boundaries. Draw some of these lines and basically say these employees are adults and they expect them to attempt to suss out the relevant boundary between gratuitous political discussion. That's unrelated to the work matters at hand versus you. Know all the things that are directly related to their job duties. Jonathan you described this decision as being disappointing. Can you explain why. I guess it comes down to a couple of things for me one. I think it's disappointing. Because when you listen to the employees in those companies they expressed appointment right and run a company where we train bosses all day every day on how to do their jobs. Most bosses are given very little training. And they're trying their best but they're figuring out as they go and one of the things that we talked to them about is like you want to build a world class team you want. People like super engaged and and like driving your business forward. Liz edit they wanna bring their whole selves to work and maybe they wanted to be crime statistics in the abstract. Maybe but a lot of the time the thing. They are an expert in his their own experience and the race. Riots happening across the country. That's reading on their experience their day to day and they may want to talk about that. We tell them when we recruit them. We're a different kind of company. I mean base camp in particular david. Jason the founders have made a brand out of how they are but the way they run their business and a lot of people are really drawn to this like enlightened notion of management leadership. And they're like oh we we're going to beat switch. We're going to change the rules. Yes he thought. This was a different kind of company not anymore. Some of the reason why not anymore is because you makes us uncomfortable. Some of the discussions didn't go the way that we wanted them to. We feel like we want to get rid of that. It's one thing to write that email that blog post. It's another thing to say to every leader in the organization. Do you have the tools to draw a clear line there. No politics right not allowed to talk about politics unrelated to our core mission. Are we allowed to talk about who our customers are. That's political right. Maybe we're not allowed to talk about that. Are we allowed to talk about the football game that we watched on the weekend. Yes what if somebody neil there. We'll have to talk about that. No all of that complexity. You can't just make it disappear because you wrote a blog post and what ends up happening experiences when we talked to these leaders is they develop their own interpretation of it and it gets really unevenly applied and people have a really awful an ambiguous experience at work. You are bringing up very reasonable questions about this do you. Change and jason freed were pretty explicit about the idea that this isn't going to be perfectly executed. It's not going to always be cut. And but they're expecting adults to do a reasonable job of figuring out what these lines and what these boundaries are and. I think it's also worth going back to sort of the original instigating event from what we can tell which is in two thousand nine employees at the company circulated a list of funny sounding names where they mocked them. They were unkind. it was i think. List of customer names. So very bad optics. Now that that's released right obviously but basically you know there were employees who engaged in sort of a public reckoning about their former involvement in this list. I think twelve years ago ultimately posting apology for their involvement and the anti-defamation league's pyramid of hate which places mocking and silly name calling and the microaggressions lumps within on the bottom of the pyramid. And then in ascending order of severity genocide at the very top and so i think what d. h. and jason freed objected to when they were pretty explicit about this was the sense of. Yeah we atone for the fact that people at our company engaged really juvenile really crappy behavior about customers names. That's not a cool thing to do but for employees to in any way context collapse this and equate this with something much more severe than it is. You know the first step on the path to genocide or toward acts of hatred is a little bit crazy. So i really think like. That's the context that i keep coming back to when trying to gauge whether the reactions were appropriate that disagreement wasn't about politics like it wasn't about medicare for all it was about something happening at the company like it was about this list of names and then the formation of diversity equity and inclusion committees which this blog post then essentially said like. That's over now. That's the challenge. I'm having here is that this isn't about like you taking over the office to have a giant argument about how much you hate elizabeth warren but this was work related political discourse. Is there a difference there to you. Liz it's sort of work related political discourse right but it really. The police could have just done an apology. Issued an apology for saying you know saying twelve years ago i was juvenile. I mocked names. Sorry about that. I won't do it again. And they did. It have to bring this sort of broader ad l. pyramid discussion of white supremacy and racist. And all of these things that they began to lump into this as part of their d. I initiative it really snowballed from being something. In my view. Something that was specific they were sort of broadening it beyond that and converting it into this much bigger thing in a manner that really seemed disproportionate to the scale of the initial incident. The initial grievance. All things considered not that bad. It's a dumb thing to do. But it's not an evil or insidious thing to do. I can understand how these types of aggressions really stack up and begin to make people feel unwelcome. But i think maybe what jason freed h. We're both reacting to was the sense that people are using this as a news. Hook to talk about other issues related to their d. I committee that they're forming and a manner that's not actually super relevant to the apology that they're trying to give to their colleagues. You know it's interesting. The i don't know what was in deejays jason's when they when they made the decision but one of the things that came out. Was this all hands. They had four days after the blog. Post my live right and it. It got to end. The leaders of that organization were asked whether they condemned late supremacy got. Somebody brought it up and said well can we at least be clear on that as an organization. Can we at least be clear on that like this is not a white supremacist organization. That doesn't have a place here and they couldn't answer the reporting at least and i wasn't in the room but the reporting at least was that they hesitated to answer because they just finished saying we're not gonna talk about politics and now they get challenged on this thing. That feels pretty straightforward. That you would want. I would want my executive to be able to answer very quickly on and they couldn't because now we've created the line and are we allowed to cross the line that other people aren't allowed to cross and so it's interesting as a case but i'm more interested in the general question because people are trying to turn this into an example. They did it. Can i do it one thing. We should look at said it in your setup is that you didn't go well maybe over the long term. They'll they'll pat themselves on the back for it. But in the short term it's an operational catastrophe to have a third of your company. Quit like that's just an objective fact. You screwed up if it's thirty your company quits within a two week period. So i am interested. Jonathan you made a point in your piece that these political discussions are often related to diversity equity and inclusion efforts or other areas that have to do with who people are at work and how it is cutting off political discussions or even kind of picking and choosing what's political and what's not. How does that affect that work. In your view. I've never met a company doing diversity equity and inclusion work seriously taking it seriously who didn't find it really uncomfortable. And so if what. We're responding to if what these. Ceo's are responding to is that these conversations get uncomfortable. That people's feelings are heard that people feel like they're barked out for not having done enough work on it. then. I feel like even in the general case. You're going to have a really hard. Time at work is inherently really a political class chen. About like what is the role of the corporation in dismantling systemic problems that that are throughout society right. Where do we draw that line. And and anybody with a d. I team anybody with the effort is saying. I get it and like how good i am at that. How much research. I've done on that whether i'm the expert or need to bring in experts. Those are all fair game questions. But as soon as you're engaging as an organization to change the status quo like i don't know i don't know how that's not political and so if you tell me that i'm not allowed to talk about it then. I think probably what happens. Is that that effort really get stifled. We've stifled that. But like if. I hope not but if something really toxic is happening well we've made sure that nobody can see it now right because the conversation was supposed to be illegal in the first place. You mentioned like you want to hope that people will be respectful. The people are not going to like. Bring awful hateful things into their workplace but she also mentioned sexual harassment. We've got all kinds of laws about that already. It hasn't meant it doesn't happen. Yeah i think it's worth noting that we're not talking about like boomer. Coal miners in west virginia. Like not that. There's anything wrong with them. But we're talking about people like the three of us like when i think about. Yeah the three of us could also be like ignorant jerks like. Let's be real picture. We all live in major cities where we have met many people who do the thing of like know like i'm extremely awoke and those are the same people who try to touch my hair so like i just wanna be clear here that this can happen anywhere. That's true but i do think we might be catastrophes in a little bit like you were talking about the question of whether or not dj jason freed were comfortable condemning white supremacy and how they were uncomfortable condemning it. It seems a little bit weird and non-sequitur e for your employees to say oh but you haven't condemned white supremacy today it's like i haven't condemned white supremacy this week or this month. Do i need to be going and doing that. It seems a little bit out of left field. And i want to introduce the idea that maybe there's a little bit of a generational definitional and even disposition a difference in how people approach these issues. I think as a point of order we should condemn white supremacy but could once and for all but did it. It's done congratulate. Thank you very opposed but liz. I the definitional issues that you're pointing to. I think that's the root of the whole thing. When jean asks about like political discussions at work i think if you come up with a clean definition of politics you'd be making some progress but i think you're going to have a lot of trouble doing it. In fact i think fundamentally impossible. Because because i think my experience coming up as a straight white guy in tack in toronto is gonna be really different in terms of where politics reads on my career success where it reads on whether i get an interview and i sent a resume end like where reads on my day to day treatment. The definition that i would apply to what's political discourse at work might might eliminate whole elements of you being able to talk about what it is to live and work at this company and a lot of places. There's kind of like the employee. And in general that's white heterosexual men and white heterosexual. Man can be very good nice people. I'm big fan but it also means that there are going to be moments where like anything that is. Not that is treated as if they you know. Non white non straight non male people can't be objective about certain issues or this idea that adding them into the mix has just made everything too complicated. That idea that like lack of animosity. Lack of discord is more important than than what than expressing this stuff. I think that bears a lot of challenging. Yeah i see it as somewhat concerning when people begin to rely on work as the source of fulfillment or moral guidance or community. I think there's obviously some amount of community that we necessarily get from work if we like it there and if we are friends with some of our colleagues but the thing i just keep coming back to. Is this idea that when that employment is severed whether it's voluntary or involuntary whether people move jobs of their own volition of their own accord or whether they're fired or laid off. I think it can really feel like the rug has been pulled out from under people to lose that source of support that network and i think it's really important that we sort of allow people to draw some of those healthy boundaries. Maybe even encourage them to draw some boundaries to be able to still lean on their church community or their friends or their family As opposed to just their colleagues. I often tell people. It's important to remember that work is not your family. It's not you can be fired from your job. In most cases you cannot be fired from your family when i have experienced job loss before it was the people who had nothing to do with my work. Who were there to support me if you are working at google or on like the facebook campus. There's a beautiful cafeteria and you get smoothies all the time but the expectation again is that you will work. Eighteen nineteen hours a day and that will be praised then. I think that it's very challenging to have that. Well it's clock out. This is your life because at a certain point if you're constantly available it of his what you do. Jonathan is this a tech issue. You mentioned in your piece. This tends to be this familiar recipe that you found tech company you market. The company is being at the forefront of a new way of working. You have a big mission. You recruit employees who want to do good work for a company but everyone defines good differently. The employees are like we want to make it a better place and then they start doing like diversity equity inclusion work and then things get complicated and then everyone's like as you said like whoa. Whoa whoa wait a minute. You know working sixteen hours a day for this company or if you're suddenly on their careers page right if you're suddenly the face that we put up because we want to attract more people because we've got targets that someone someone's trying to hit so they get their bonus is a part of my life if if you're literally using my person my face and my body to promote your organization like i feel like there's a pretty tie there been there right. And in that moment what seeing his. Yeah yes people have a hammocks and yes. People have catered lunches fifteen years ago. That was their strategy for attracting top talent and it shifted now like how is it that these companies that pay their employees so exorbitantly and like give them all kinds of benefits are seeing unionization. Drives that they haven't seen before and part of it is because those people are realizing their labor is supporting things are not happy with the labor is supporting censorship regimes. That they're not happy with labor supporting weaponry development that they're not happy with and they're saying like we're going to take our labor elsewhere. Don't worry about us. We will find a new family in a real hurry. This thing that you're identifying a problem. This sort of exodus of employees is something that i look at. As maybe a really good thing it might be a short-term painful thing but a really valuable long-term move. Because i mean these people are getting generous. Severance people who stayed at the company for longer than three years got six months salary of severance people who were under three years. Got three months salary severance. It was sort of interesting sorting that we saw. Where basically those who were on board with the sort of reorientation. The recalibrating of the company were able to stay and to understand. Okay we're doubling back down on the shared projects that we're doing together and those who didn't want to do that. Got months of runway to be able to look for other stuff. And frankly you look at a lot of these ex employees twitter threats and you had hordes of hiring managers reaching out to them afterwards saying oh you know. They're not going to appreciate you. Your values your wanting to create a d. I committee is fully aligned with what we're trying to do over here. It's kind of a win. I'm happy for those employees day soft landings. I think if you go back and you read it especially during those two weeks you a lot of them talk about fear and heartbreak and like i don't think in that moment they're having a great time. We're happy with the decision. But having said that if you genuinely feel that if you was an executive seal like it's it's odious obnoxious unpleasant. Whatever has people talking about the fact that they're having a really hard time at work after towards floyd protests. Then i hope you do say loud. I hope you say out loud like that's not welcome here. I'm not an employer. That's making space for that so that we all know the employees who left they got new jobs. But what's really important. Is the new employees going in no kind of executive working for as we begin to emerge from the pandemic work culture as many of us. Now i might never be the same. Tell me all about it in a voice mail by calling three four seven nine one five four. Three two four might excerpt on a future episode. Twenty twenty. 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The story behind that one election the only time in recent history that a congressional action was thrown out for fraud is actually the story of a series of election fights. Fueled by personal grudges and petty beefs family history and history history and it's about the oldest fight of all the fight for the black vote it was almost like they realized that we weren't done like okay. They smart. I'm zoe chase. Host of the improvement association from the makers of cereal and the new york times told him five parts. Find it wherever. We get your podcasts. That i wanted to ask you. Is there a good argument that you can make four these decisions. Well i'll tell you one of the worst brands. In organizational psychology is psychological safety. Everybody hears that term. And they're like this is about babying. People does is about treating everybody with mittens and and making sure every walls padded. And it's not what it means psychological his body of research that says teams tend to perform when they know what the rules are when they know what is expected of them when they know what happens if they fail a lot of the research about like. I feel confident that i can bring my whole self to work. I feel confident that my manager sees my achievements and that are important. I feel confident that i can succeed in this organization. Correlate back to how clear on my about the expectations. I know what happens if i screw up doing. What's allowed and what's not allowed. And so if you can articulate there's health in that but you need to be clear even if you say that. I think you're going to see really uneven enforcement of that and i think we could both name lots of cases where people with sort of heterodox views get disproportionate enforcement of policies. That other people are totally allowed to get away with and like that undermines psychological safety lot. Because now i've got to spend all my time on how much my boss makes eye contact with me. And how much the interrupt me. Because i don't have a clear sense of like what's inbounds on what's out of bounds. They're not saying that people can't ever say hey. I'm feeling a little bit down because of something in the news this week or i feel hurt by somebody else being exclusionary or even you know i'm dealing with this really challenging difficulty in my life that has to do with a specific identity that that i hold her group that i'm part of i get the sense that they're saying. Hey that daily beast article that you really wanna share in that sock channel. That's about the struggles for voting rights. Various red states. That's not really related to us. Making password management software. I do think that does run the risk of uneven enforcement and i think they have to approach it with a certain posture of humility to be able to execute it. Well that's the thing i really worry about. It's not how. Liz interprets carefully is not how we interpreted when we're spending enough time to really digest it. It's how does a newly promoted manager who's got two people that team launch about something interpreted and is it the same for every newly minted manager and every director and every vp within that organization. Because my experience is it's not and it's worth saying that's what drives a lot of stuff in the first place the lot of the struggles that organizations are having is because like people are not given equal treatment. People are not given a fair shake right. Resumes sounds like it's regionalized name. I'm less likely to call that person. From the moment they touch my hiring pipeline all the way through their career progression in the organization to the day. They get fired or leave. They're not getting equal treatment and to take something as big as politics and say we're adding that to the ways that like management can discretionary permit or permit. I don't disagree that some of those conversations. Don't go anywhere. I just think that doing so much more damage in service of resolving them. Jonathan what would a preemptive strategy in your mind would a better one look like. It's big if we had started from instead of unpleasant. And i want to resolve that if we had started from i'm leading diverse organization and i feel like under-equipped to do that and the solution is not i will drop hammer. Organization dissolution is. I will go get equipped genuinely. I think that'd be really powerful. I think if you invested in that and then invested in that for the rest of the organization as well that twenty person i committee. I don't know what they were doing to people who are on that committee a base camp said they hadn't done anything before. The committee was disbanded. Not like they've done something really. Controversial committee would have suggested resources and tools that were base camp appropriate and like aligned with the identities of the people working in the company so that we all get to more fulsome understanding of it. And they don't have to do any. None of this is legally required outside of basic labour. Lost us labor lawyer. But i don't think they have to write. I think that like. I wish they would choose to because i would want to work with that company. One thing. the ice would've been curious about is like i mean i've been combing through the data that i can find on. Dia initiatives and trying to get a better sense of like to. We have evidence that suggests that these things that are really vogue right now. Do we have evidence to suggest. They work super well. I would be very curious to see what the d. I folks at basecamp would have come up with their ideas were because i think there are a lot of companies in this that when we talk about politics or diversity at work there is an easy road which is either. You can't talk about it or you have to do it in these specific ways and there's much harder road which is like you're going to have to deal with some people who were like. Hey remember that time that you assumed x and y about me because of my name or you asked me where i was from and i'm from like dubuque that's something that i've seen companies do time and time and time again where it's like. Well we could do the hard thing or we could do the way easier thing. I think there are so many creative ways that companies could do that like scrapping degree requirements. But i mean a lot of us aren't willing to have that conversation right. We're really interested in the performing of side but not as interested in this class and race. Side that i think is really important where people could actually cut to the chase for what it's worth. That's the thing that we talked about about directly. We talked to them about like why. Go look at your job. Descriptions and tell me what degree requirement is doing as a proxy. And while you're at it go find out if you've got something in your offer letters about you have to explicitly say that you've never been convicted of a criminal offence for which you have received a pardon. What is that doing right like what. What is that doing in terms of the makeup of your candidate pool and how many people are bouncing off oven. How many of them are lying to you. Because they can't say yes to that and lose another job right. That stuff comes up and jane. I would i would agree. Tech is full of stories of founders. Who would rather jeopardize their entire business. Go to therapy would rather jeopardize their entire business than have someone very junior. Tell them that they're screwing up and that they've built a company that is less of a dream than it appears to be on their careers. Page the only power. The employee has quit. And you're seeing them use it but that's a lot of power to give to really junior people not to work against myself because i'm a more junior person. All things considered. I think you are tapping into a really important point. Jonathan which is like who holds the power. Are they the right people to hold that power their checks on the way there wielding power the way would flip that a little bit is like we're also in a moment where people like me or people like me who are asian or who are black or what have you have a lot of power two-wheeled and it's sort of sometimes. Seems like we're giving a lot of power to people have a lot of complaints but aren't necessarily super judicious with their concept of what a workplace ought to provide them. I'm curious was what was your ideal workplace. Look like well. I have to answer. Reasons like are not allowed to know. I mean i think for me i mean. I'm a pretty high conflict personality. Just you know truth be told like. I've always thought. I would get along really well with lawyers because i think that ability to state your case to go back and forth but then also to be resilient afterward and to recognize that you can have these very high level discussions that are theoretical. We're you stake out a claim and you defend it but it's not necessarily a reflection of what you believe. It's just sort of something your workshop in an environment. That's really robust in that area would work well for me. So frankly a place like basecamp probably would be a terrible fit in part because they would never hire me. Because i don't have the skills that are relevant to what they're doing there but one of the things that i do also value is the ability of some employees to say. Hey we need you to grow and change in this way we need to investigate this grievance that we have where there's also room for that person to do all of that reading and learning and then come back and say i still disagree. And here's why. I think that back and forth is good because we're in the placating mode and i don't think that's healthy. I don't think it's productive. Does one thing that. I just wanted to underline their liz. From the way they talk about it. I think that a lot of leaders in general but but texas is often at the vanguard for this stuff just because i work places so mobile and just because it's such a sought after industry. At the moment. I think a lot of leaders attack view the conversation. I'm not putting it on you. But view the conversation in the terms that you used in terms of like we can go back and forth on it and then we can recover afterwards like. We're having a debate about it. It's okay for us to disagree in the context of that. It's not a personal attack. And what i consistently hear from the people that we work with is for them. It's it is personal. We can have a debate about politics at work but like when we go home you can go to work tomorrow in. Politics isn't a part of your day. That's okay and if i come to work tomorrow and politics isn't a part of my day than i am not included here right and not because it's like a hobby the because it's like i can't wash it off. It's who i am. And i need to be able to talk about that because i need to be able to advocate for things like our health benefits. Don't cover same sex spouses or we've got maternal leave but we don't have paternal leave which is something that should truly be elements and they have to be right. They have to be an. I totally agree and i think we need to be so confident that every manager is going to feel that way and i think it's really hard to do that from a blanket ban on speech and with leads turn oven. Thank you so much for joining me for talking about politics at work while working at work. Thank you thank you so much. Gene will as a senior editor at recent and jonathan. Nightingale is an author and co founder of ross signal group. You should read peace and reason and jonathan's newsletter and the basecamp decision. There's great reporting on the base camp decision by casey newton. On the verge you can find links in our episode news. Finally here's what some of you had to say about bringing your whole self to work. Hi my name's annette. I'm from baltimore is realized that as a woman in my thirties who's just been diagnosed with autism. I have never been myself at work. And i am so excited that my company is giving me the opportunity to continue working from home where so much more productive and i'm so much more comfortable and spend much less stress because zeina home not trying to be someone. I'm not hi. My name is dan phantom. I live in seatac washington and over time at the game. Tenure in my position. I brought more and more of my personal self to work and let less of work into my personal life and i feel like that's sort of endemic in my organization and i believe that actually as a whole organization is becoming more innovative than more responsive as we've become more accustomed to seeing actual cells instead of our business sells. Hi my name. Is angie and i'm from portland oregon and at the time. But i felt like i couldn't be myself at work for certainly related to being a working mom. It's really challenging times to be taken seriously especially when you have a newborn toddlers and then you find yourself hiding those parts of the you are not sharing the joy that you're experiencing the most important tens of your life so yeah working motherhood you hide a lot is murkowski. I from washington dc and on the subject of how much of myself agreeing to work. Being the child to immigrants from separate nations came here and to life and somehow each other. My upbringing was out typical. I think in my best interest to make sure that i'm personable amenable professional and that's pretty much the arguments production of times opinion. It's produced by gutierrez and vishakha durga edited by alison brick. Sarah guys and polish him with original music and sound design by addictions mixing by carol subbarao backtracking by jordan reed an audience strategy by shannon busta. Special thanks this week to kristen lynn