There is an art to conversation — knowing just what to say to whom and how. Think of the times someone at the office has drawn you in with a perfectly told tale about an art exhibit. And then think of the times you wanted to crawl under your desk and scream because a colleague was completely inappropriate describing a debauchery weekend in lurid detail.
Just so you can stay artful and not cringe-worthy, here is a list of 15 things (and there could be 15,000) that you should never talk about at work.
Do the illegal and abhorrent recent and historic antics of Hurricane Harvey Weinstein not convince you to ever bring up the subject or allude to it in any way? They should. You do not want to divulge private information or talk in the abstract about sex as it relates to anyone else, even if you saw something on Twitter that you can’t resist discussing. Never ask a question about anyone in the office as it relates to sex, and remember that tehre are sexual harassment laws for a reason.
Unless you are comparing prices of what you are ordering for lunch and trying to figure out if you have enough change for the food truck, do not talk about costs. Do not say how much rent you pay, how much your house is worth, how much your tuition was, how much your dress or your shows or your private yoga classes cost. If someone clearly is curious, steer him or her to the website. If there is not website, say you forgot.
This is personal. It is not your business if your friend across the hallway is involved in a cult or has no organized religion she calls her own. And it is not anyone’s business where you are on the scale of likely salvation in the afterlife. No.
Unless asked, leave memory lane to another time outside of work hours. This does not pertain to today. Yes, you can casually mention that the color of new chairs in the conference room reminds you of the living room sofa you had growing up, but the recollection can end there. Then does not have anything to do with now.
I always say your personal life should not leak into your work hours. You shouldn’t be on the phone with friends chatting up at work, unless it is a meet me here and when kind of deal. Don’t talk about all the great things you do with your friends or all the invitations you have for the weekend. Keep it to yourself—again unless someone on the way out asks what you have planned. Don’t let everyone in on your social life.
This is different than talking about sex, which you know by now you should never do. Don’t talk about your infected toe, your oozing ear, ingrown hairs, anything. This is not polite or even palatable. Put bandages over sores.
I once worked with a woman who let everyone know she needed more fiber and why. Needless to say we were all grossed out and when she got up to go to the ladies room, we were reminded of what she was in need of doing.
There’s a thread here related to the privacy of your physical presence. You don’t have a right to impose on others your daily weigh-ins. Unless you are close friends with a coworker who asks specifics, do not announce what is on your drivers’ license in the weight area. Do not ask how much people weigh. Do not compare yourself to anyone. Weight is very personal and very emotional. Do not go there.
Spare yourself the shunning and the label of being the one in the office who is way out of line. Do not repeat a joke that is disrespectful in any way, even with attribution. Because everyone will remember you said it.
You don’t have to be a Baby Boomer to wax nostalgic with stories of all-nighters and outrageous acts of everyday stupidity. No one wants to hear these stories at work. You can be just out of college moaning for the weekends of home football games with pre-gaming at 6 a.m. No one cares anymore. Those days are over. And you look like someone who never grew up.
Badmouth no one. Do not disparage someone you work with, spread gossip or rumors or even talk about his or her performance in a negative light. No one likes mean girls at work. Do not compare yourself to your coworkers. The only thing you should discuss about coworkers are compliments and expressions of appreciation.
You have heard this so many times, we should not need to remind you. This is no-one’s business. Keep politics out of the professional sphere of your life and you will be much happier. Even if someone asks directly, do not give it up. Say you prefer not to talk about politics. Keep people guessing, you do not want your party lines to disrupt your career.
Never make comments about anyone’s performance or appearance or even the state of his or her desktop. Of course you will never name call, label or judge someone at work. Do not offer negative feedback and do not jump in to render judgment on anything. This also goes for self-criticism. No one like to work with someone who is hyper-critical of herself and is so deep into self-abnegation that it is painful to witness.
This is slightly broader than sex. But you do not have to share the romantic encounters you have with your partner, even if they are completely innocent. Coming into work on a Monday with a story of how your partner swept you off your feet for dinner al fresco Friday night should not be how you kick off the week. Or end it.
Every so often you may fight with your parents or your siblings or your kids. Your cousins may also get in on this. No one needs to know the gory details of your family’s petty squabbles. Stay silent on this.
This is a lot of don’ts. But steer clear of these and you will find an infinite pool of topics you can discuss. Start an artful conversation about what is fun to talk about at work.
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