There is a marked difference between tiptoeing around an office of eggshells and being blatantly, even obnoxiously, offensive. In most cases, that line is pretty wide and not terribly difficult to manage. Granted, there are certain areas where words get muddled or a misunderstanding occurs, however, generalities aside, there are pretty clear markers on what is, and what is not, acceptable workplace conversation.
Even for those with the best of intentions and quality social skills, there looms a danger that occasionally just happens: the dreaded miscommunication. While most often not anyone’s actual fault, the best strategy for managing this is one of containment: Disengage, do damage control, and be liberal with apologies as called for within the particular situation. Certain individuals, especially within a professional setting, can seem prone to not only take offense, but doggedly hold on to it. The best advice is to make your position of an honest mistake clear; things may be slightly awkward for a time, but it beats an open ticket with HR any day.
Having covered a few generalities, we’ll now go on to compile a more specific list of common, and easily recognizable, subjects to handily avoid in the workplace.
Let’s discuss a few of the following items, taking a moment to go into a little bit of exposition even though many may seem ubiquitously obvious.
- ANY Political or Religious Topic: This one is right on the edge of such common knowledge that they hardly bear mentioning. We do so, however, to say this: Political issues aren’t limited to actual politics. It can easily encompass any degree of social or economic issues, even the most seemingly innocuous.
- Money: Discussing your individual financial arrangement with the company, be it right-to-work or contracted, is generally considered extremely taboo, justified by an attempt to circumvent conflict within the ranks.
- The Compulsive Contrarian: Many offices have that one individual who, despite the topic or subject, simply can’t speak positively about virtually anything. Do yourself (and the company) a favor and don’t be one of these people. Moreover, do your best to avoid engaging in conversations with these types individuals as well.
Now that we’ve covered the primary trifecta, here is a short-fire list for further consideration:
- Personal life “drama”
- Relationship details and sexuality
- Personal orientations
- Gossiping about the boss and/or other coworkers
Covering the Bases
The plain fact is that poorly considered conversations have the potential to genuinely harm your career. Regardless of the legitimacy (or even maturity) of the resulting fallout reactions, you really have to ask yourself if it’s worth it. Is the risk worth the expression? Most often, the answer will be a resounding “no”.
Conversely, the end result of this culture of personal and professional preservation may potentially result in something of a lifeless-feeling workplace, with you and your coworkers hesitant to genuinely open up and make any real connections. How to balance this equation is a task that’s going to be relative to you, specifically, and your particular environment. In the end, only the individual can really assess the ins and outs of their own professional culture, determining what is and what is not acceptable.
Our advice is to proceed with caution. A single unintended misstep can have repercussions that can last a lifetime.
Further reading: Tips For Being a Great Coworker
Stewart, Cooper & Coon, has helped thousands of decision makers and senior executives move up in their careers and achieve significantly improved financial packages within short time frames. Contact Fred Coon – 866-883-4200, Ext. 200