6 inappropriate conversation topics you should always avoid at work

No matter how close you may be to your coworkers — or even to your boss — there are some subjects that just aren’t right for professional small talk.

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Like it or not, you probably spend a lot of time at the office — maybe even more than you do at home. Even if you’re not crazy about your job (maybe it’s time to get on that job search grind!), all the time you invest in it is bound to make you feel pretty comfortable when you’re there. Is it possible that you’ve gotten a little too comfortable? Maybe.

When we get comfortable, we tend to stop filtering what we say, which can get us into trouble. No matter how close you may be to your coworkers — or even to your boss — there are some subjects that just aren’t right for professional small talk. We asked six career experts to weigh in.


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1. Coworker Drama: There’s a time and a place to discuss any lingering tensions that you’re having with a colleague… and that time and place is a formal meeting with an HR rep or other supervisor in a closed-door office. Maple Holistics HR manager and health expert Nate Masterson urges you to resist the urge to turn disagreements into office gossip, even with your boss. “If you have a problem with someone, you should try to resolve it with the person directly,” he tells us. “If the issue persists and is having a negative impact on your work, then consider approaching HR [first].”

2. Money: Unless you’re discussing a new pricing model for your clients or sharing a quick tip about a shoe sale you spotted over the weekend, money shouldn’t be discussed in the workplace. Wouldn’t you hate for complaints about your salary or personal budget to circle back to your boss and affect the way you’re considered for raises and promotions going forward? “The boss’s motivation to give [the raise] to you will never be because you needit,” Career Contessa founder and CEO Lauren McGoodwin says. “It will be because your skills add value to the company and those come at a price.”

3. Hangovers: It’s one thing for you and your work BFF to share stories about your wildest nights out when you’re chatting one-on-one in a private office (or, better yet, away from the professional environment entirely), but there’s no reason that your hangover experiences need to become fodder for the rest of your colleagues. And no one wants or needs to know that you’re currently feeling the pain from a rough night. MyCorporation.com director of operations Dana Case recommends glossing over the details of any drinking that’s led to a hangover. Trade “This weekend was so crazy!” for “It was a great weekend! I went out with some friends to a happy hour and had a good time.” Much better.

4. Politics: This one might feel pretty old school, but given the polarized state of things in our world right now, it’s more relevant than ever. “Politics is one of the most divisive topics in the book, [because] it incites strong feelings and controversial opinions, making it a breeding ground for arguments,” Healing Holidays hiring manager Matt Dunne says. “It’s very easy for these heated discussions to get out of hand because everyone feels so strongly about their views and nobody is willing to back down from their argument. This makes politics a very bad subject for workplace small talk.” Your point may be a good one that’s worth sharing, but that doesn’t make the office the best place to bring it up.

5. Complaints: As a rule, your go-to form of water cooler small talk shouldn’t be complaining. We know that you’re frustrated by the number of emails you’ve been getting from your boss and how cold it’s been in your cubicle lately (someone turn up the heat!), but you never know how those grievances may get back to a supervisor and how they might be perceived, particularly if they’ve been offered without any potential solutions. “We have bad days and we all need to vent, but when two humans commiserate, it can become toxic and it spreads like wildfire,” says positive psychologist and owner of Stellar Life Coaching Kendra Davies, who has a background in human resources. Try to limit your venting to loved ones who don’t work in your office.

6. Personal Details: It says a lot about your level of workplace satisfaction if you’re feeling comfortable with and excited about the prospect of sharing information about your personal life with colleagues, but that doesn’t mean it’s the best move. Zety HR specialist and recruiter Aleksandra Wlodarczyk advises that you keep personal chatter at a minimum when you’re on the job, as it may kick off disagreements or incite judgment. Identify your work besties and confide in them instead of the larger group.

This article originally appeated on Brit + Co.


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