Allow us to set the scene: it’s 5 p.m. on a Friday, the office is nearly empty. A few folks are murmuring in the cubicles behind you. The cleaning staff is starting their nightly rounds. You’re left with your work buddy and you’re eagerly gossiping about anything and everything. While you are pretty sure no one can hear you — and you mostly trust your colleague — there are some conversations that shouldn’t be had within the confines of a professional setting.
Though some may argue appropriate discussions depend on the culture of the company, career expert Elizabeth Whittaker-Walker begs to differ, since some topics can risk your reputation — and even your employment. How come? We all have biases — regardless if we acknowledge or realize them — and it’s not always easy-peasy to leave ‘em at the door.
“As much as professionals may challenge or battle biases, they exist and they impact how decisions are made, trust is built, and so much more,” she continues. “Without having a bias roadmap for every colleague one engages in work, it’s difficult to know what kinds of conversations will be seen as supporting or opposing the tenants of institutional culture each person holds most dearly.”
For all of these conversations, it’s better to keep mum with your work buddies, or at the very least, take the talk outside — literally.
The one about politics, religion, and sex
When you attend your partner’s gala, see a long-lost friend for the first time in ages or find yourself at a dinner party with folks whose views you don’t share, it’s important to choose your words carefully. Elizabeth Pearson, an executive career coach says the same is true in a professional network, and generally speaking, you should never discuss politics, religion or sex.
“The likelihood of making a coworker or boss feel uncomfortable when broaching one of these topics is sky-high,” she continues. “Even if you think you are aligned with your conversation partner’s views on one of these subjects — don’t risk it. There are sexual harassment and discrimination laws for a reason.”
All employees should feel empowered to believe what they want, vote for whomever they wish and feel respected in a working environment, and when these topics are brought up, you never know who could feel ashamed or even get angry.
The one about how you spend your money
You and your partner choose to take a lavish, wonderful vacation together each and every year to a faraway place. Your office mate on the other hand, who makes a similar salary, is more of a saver who values pinching pennies over investing in a safari in South Africa.
Here’s the deal: no two folks handle finances the same way, and it can sometimes send the wrong message if you openly talk about your home, your car and your vacation plans. Not only will some folks see this as bragging — but if leadership is annoyed, it could prevent you from upward mobility.
“By disclosing excessive information about your spending means, you could be unknowingly signaling to your company’s leadership that you have no need for an increase in pay. Be selective about who you share your financial habits with,” Whittaker-Walker suggests. “Keep your big purchases private.”
The one about your side hustle
These days, nearly everyone has a second gig. Thanks to a budding digital landscape that’s ripe with opportunity and an economy that’s heavily turning toward freelancers, you may have recently developed a side hustle.
Regardless if you’re a DIY Diva with a thriving Etsy business or a copywriter who is underpaid and signing contracts with non-competitors, Pearson says to keep this news to yourself.
“Even if you are not using any company time to work on your budding business, your boss may not believe you are giving 100 percent and are still totally committed to their initiatives,” she explains. “Gush about your side-hustle success to friends and family — or basically anyone who doesn’t work with you.”
The one involving intimate details about your relationship
Sure, you will probably answer some questions about your current dating situation. You may even eagerly bring up your children — and gladly show off photos from their latest weekend adventure. It’s normal to share basic information, but it’s better to keep on the side of generalization and not intimacy.
As Whittaker-Walker explains, sharing too much about this sacred part of your life gives your colleagues unearned access that they could use against you.
“If sensitive information in this department is shared freely with one colleague, they might feel free to share it with another colleague. As information spreads, your professional identity could become more linked to your relationship status than your skills and talents,” she explains. When you are having trouble at home, it’s better to vent to a friend, write your thoughts in a journal, or even seeking therapy to have a safe space to work through issues.
The one about your disdain for your boss or coworkers
If you wake up each and every workday, excited to head into the office and raddle through your deliverables, you’re lucky. But you’re also not immune to poor professional experiences like a micromanaging boss, a demanding client or an assistant who simply can’t follow instructions.
Many people — even those who adore their careers — vent about their professional grievances. And though they may seem harmless by the coffee maker with a colleague you consider a friend, Pearson says it can quickly turn around and reflect badly on you. This is especially true if you’re lured into a group dynamic where everyone shares resentment, annoyance of satisfaction.
“Throwing out negative vibes and complaints will tarnish your reputation, damage your chances of a promotion, or even get you fired,” Pearson continues. “Leadership within the organization may flag you as a flight-risk, or even worse, a ‘cancer’ to the company culture.”