Workplace conversation is a balancing act. You want to have meaningful conversations with coworkers while never crossing the line into inappropriate topics or language that could make someone feel uncomfortable. It’s important always to maintain appropriate workplace conversation no matter how close you are with your colleagues.
The good news is there’s no shortage of interesting (and appropriate) things to talk about at work. In this post, we’ll cover the dos and don’ts of workplace conversation, including:
Find common interests amongst your coworkers to initiate more meaningful and memorable conversations. This will come easier as you get to know your colleagues.
Common interests might include:
Don’t be afraid to ask. A simple Slack message asking if anyone has read a book you just read or asking if anyone else bikes to work will help you pinpoint common interests amongst your team.
Everyone has different communication preferences. Some colleagues may effortlessly exchange small talk, and others may find the initiation of conversation intimidating. Don’t assume everyone is just like you with the exact same comfort level. Get to know your colleagues and adjust your communication style for best results.
The community surrounding your workplace is something you all share in common. Initiate conversations by talking about upcoming local community activities and events. What restaurants are nearby your place of work? What weekly lunch specials are available? Offer suggestions and ask if anyone has tried a specific place or a type of food. You can also inquire about what your colleagues enjoyed. Good food brings people together.
People love to talk about the vacations they’ve planned as well as the places they’ve been. Start a conversation with your coworkers by asking them about their recent or upcoming vacations. If you’re thinking about traveling somewhere soon, ask if they’ve been to that location before. Finding common places traveled will unearth a number of conversation possibilities. Plus, it will bring people joy to talk about past or upcoming trips.
When it comes to entertainment—from books to movies to television shows to live performances—there’s no shortage of conversation topics. Watching the same long-running television show will give you conversation starters for many weeks. Just don’t become the office pariah by revealing TV, movie, or book spoilers.
Yes, speaking about the weather is cliche, but that’s because it’s the conversation that never ends. The weather is always changing, and it affects everyone. The weather dictates commutes, activities, safety, and general wellbeing. Start a conversation by sharing current weather forecasts or by asking if anyone has seen recent weather predictions. If bad weather is approaching, express concern and empathy towards those with long commutes to work.
Watching your language at work means no more swearing. If you’re worried you’ll slip up, begin reducing your swearing at home so that you form a habit around work-appropriate language. A swear jar could be just what you need to eliminate a swearing habit.
Slang can be tough to curb, but it’s best kept out of the workplace. Just because you understand a certain phrase doesn’t mean everyone will. Remember that a workplace should make everyone feel comfortable. Using slang language can make individuals or groups feel left out, especially if you have several different generations on your team.
💡 Ageism at work includes any stereotyping or discrimination against people or groups based on their age. Learn more about Managing Generational Differences in the Workplace.
Never use sexual language in the workplace. Keep your flattery and compliments grounded in work performance, not physical image. Never comment on a coworker’s physical looks. Never use any sexual language, jokes, or innuendos.
There are certain topics that no one should ever talk about at work. Remember, an office or workplace is somewhere everyone is able to feel comfortable.
When in doubt, wait. Think about the subject matter and how it might make each person in your workplace feel. Is it a topic that could make someone feel uncomfortable? Is it a topic you are comfortable having your boss overhear? You can always start a conversation another time or chime in with your opinion later, but you can’t take back what you’ve already said out loud.
As a general rule, avoid the following topics at work.
Talking about how much you make in the presence of other coworkers is a surefire way to lose work friends. Talking about money could make other coworkers feel jealous, and it may point out differences in pay amongst employees. Earnings are personal and should be kept private for the sake of yourself and others.
Having strong and active political views is a great thing, but it’s not good workplace conversation. It may be tempting to talk about politics, especially when you feel passionate about a specific topic, but it’s best to keep your personal political views outside of the office.
Political conversations may make other colleagues uncomfortable, and let’s face it: you’re probably not going to change a coworker’s mind about an opposing political view they hold.
Religion is another personal topic that doesn’t have a place at work. Your own religion or lack of religion is personal to you. Talking about your specific religious affiliations could leave other coworkers feeling uncomfortable. Never try to impose your views on someone else, even if you mean well.
Unfortunately, this isn’t as widely understood as it should be. Never talk about sex or sexual relationships in the workplace. This is sexual harassment. It will make your fellow colleagues feel uncomfortable, and it could lose you your job.
When it comes to jobs, keep the conversation present. Speaking negatively about a past job or past coworkers will leave your current team wondering what you’ll say about them in the future. Speaking about future job opportunities illustrates how little you care about your current job, creating tension across your team. Plus, you never know what could get back to the person that hired you.
Any joke with a punchline at someone else’s expense should be kept out of the workplace. A workplace is a diverse space with people from many different backgrounds and experiences. You never know who might be hurt by your joke, so save it for your comedy act, or better yet, remove any jokes about race, sexual orientation, and gender from your repertoire entirely.
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