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Advice / Succeeding at Work / Work Relationships

Mum's the Word: Topics to Avoid at the Office

Whether your office environment is young and energetic, traditional and reserved, or anywhere in between, chatting with your colleagues is healthy and a natural part of building rapport. Obviously, choosing your words is important, but how carefully do you consider the topic of your conversations before dishing with your cube-mates?

Sure, there are some we all know are off limits—hot buttons like politics, religion, or sex can easily offend your colleagues, not to mention get you into trouble with HR. But what about innocent, everyday subjects? You might be surprised to find that what you consider a seemingly universally safe topic could be upsetting, offensive, or just plain annoying to your colleagues. Here are three topics I wouldn’t mind hearing less about in the office:

Monday Morning Mash-up

Early in my career, the only thing that ever took the sting out of a Monday was re-hashing the exploits of the weekend before with my fellow cube-mates.

Sometimes we’d all hang out together, other times not—but we’d all become close friends, which created somewhat of a clique in the office. This is great, if you happen to be a part of said clique, but if not, the tales of amazing parties and who’s dating whom can quickly get old (and even sting a little) to those not included.

Additionally, when I was a manager listening to my team dish, hearing these stories week after week certainly made me question the commitment of my employees at times—especially when I’d hear stories of late night escapades during the week. So keep your social scorecard quiet at work, and you’ll spare some hurt feelings, plus keep tales of your wild ways from making their way to your boss’ ears.

Baby Talk

This will probably get me in trouble, but after hearing my fair share about pregnancies, births, birthdays, boo-boos, and poo-poo, I have to say it.

Nobody wants to hear about every little thing your child does, every single day.

There, I said it. Now, while I write the rest of this safely hiding under my desk to avoid a projectile stapler assault, hear me out.

Don’t get me wrong, kids are great, but like most things, in moderation. And some parents (especially new parents) seem to lose their ability to recognize when they’re talking way too much about their kids. Furthermore, no one else is talking about bodily fluids, so what makes potty-training an appropriate workplace topic?

If annoying your colleagues isn’t enough to deter you, there’s one more angle you should consider: What about your colleagues who are having a hard time conceiving, or who’ve discovered they can’t? Difficulties in the baby department probably won’t come up in general conversation, so you really have no way to know if gushing over your bundle of joy is causing someone undue pain and suffering. While it’s no doubt tempting to tell the world about your beautiful babe, consider how the non-stop baby talk might be impacting others who aren’t as fortunate.

The Wedding Planner

I’m also surprised I need to bring this one up, given the plethora of bridezilla-themed reality shows these days, but after enduring at least one engagement or wedding every year for my entire 14 years on the job, it warrants a refresher.

Similar to the blinders parents wear, many brides- and grooms-to-be seem unable to recognize when their co-workers’ eyes glaze over after hearing one too many tales of napkin-selection drama. Although the office crowd is likely excited and happy for you, they probably aren’t interested in the play-by-play for the million or more details involved in planning your nuptials.

Additionally, unless you’re planning to invite everyone in your office, keeping the planning discussions to a minimum will help keep those who won’t be attending from feeling that much more excluded. Keep the flower and cake discussions for after hours, and leave the planning binder to at home. Work is work, after all!

Regardless of the topic, remember this: Your office is filled with people from diverse backgrounds, beliefs, and circumstances (whether you realize it or not), and they may interpret things differently than you do. Although your office mates may truly be interested or happy for you when you whip out the latest snapshots of your toddler, wedding dress, or pub crawl, too much of a good thing can be trying on anyone's nerves, and may even stir up painful emotions.

So when it comes to water cooler chatter, always take a minute to consider your audience—and your material.

Photo courtesy of Amplified 2010.