What do you consider awkward topics to bring up to a coworker?
Etiquette, discretion, and social cues play a role in maintaining a sense of professionalism among colleagues. It’s important to consider your coworkers’ comfort levels before discussing awkward topics.
Try to focus on topics that encourages positive interactions and uplifts. If something is weighing heavy on you and you need to unload, do so with a trusted coworker, privately. Before you do, be sure they’re up for it–they may be going through some stuff too.
Here are six awkward topics that might make your coworkers shudder:
1. Personal financial woes: You might think that disclosing why you aren’t pitching in for a coworker’s baby shower gift is considerate or courteous, it can backfire.
- They might feel obligated to pitch-in for you, or at least offer.
- They may exclude you from happy hour, assuming you don’t have the funds or may expect them to pick up your tab.
2. Religion, politics, causes: Politics and religion are often instant-igniter topics that most of us try to avoid, especially in the workplace.
- Before sharing your point of view on politics, religion, or a cause, check the company’s policies and procedures manual. Some companies strongly discourage employees from bringing these topics into the workplace.
- Check yourself, are you able to calmly exchange ideas? Can you pick up on social cues to determine when it’s time to walk away?
3. Boasting about child or pet: Sharing a highlight about our family, pets, or casino winnings with colleagues is fine. Endlessly and repeatedly sharing the equivalent of a five-page, single-spaced, 12-font holiday letter, is not.
- Consider being more selective with whom you share news about your personal life. The cold hard truth is that not everyone cares. And if their response is less than what you expected, there will be hurt feelings and disappointment.
- Sharing is different than boasting. When we’re on a boasting crusade, we are not aware of timing, how loud our voice is, how many times we’ve shared it with the same people. Here are a few social cues to let you know you’ve exhausted your boasting time: when you see them rolling their eyes, crossing their arms, dropping their head, sighing heavily, or remembering they have to make a call.
4. Bodily malfunctions, social diseases: Discussing bodily functions or itchy rashes can make even the most composed individual shudder.
- While it may be acceptable to casually mention to a couple of coworkers that your lunchtime meal induced gas, I don’t advise you to alert everyone during a boardroom meeting.
- Go for a more subtle hint instead of outright graphic descriptions. For example, instead of saying “I have explosive diarrhea,” opt for something like “Unfortunately, I’ll be spending a lot of time in the restroom this afternoon.” or “I’m dealing with some digestive issues.” Everyone you tell will appreciate the subtlety.
“Don’t Burp in the Boardroom”, my book addresses this and many other workplace topics Available on Amazon.
5. Romantic tryst, sexual problems: Have you witnessed or been dragged into the drama of colleagues who’ve taken flirting a step too far?
- While it’s natural for colleagues to develop friendships, share aspects of their personal lives, and even find the love of their life, there are boundaries that need to be respected. This requires awareness, social cues, or verbal consent to continue. Not everyone is comfortable with details.
- Depending on the code of conduct policies, hooking up with a client or coworker may have repercussions. Check before you checkmate! (Did I just say that!= SMH) Check yourself; what is your point in sharing such intimate details?
6. Illegal activity: Why would you share this! And, why would you put anyone in an ethical predicament; to report or not to report?
- Keep in mind that in your world, the definition or parameters of what is “illegal” may differ. It doesn’t make it any less illegal! Nothing more to say.
If you live by the “I’m an open book” policy, that’s okay. Just know that not everyone wants to read it, and that’s okay too. Consider being open to a few trusted people because workplace relationships change, even end. Although wrong in my book, what was said during the relationship, sometimes becomes public domain. Would it affect your career path? Would you want your boss to hear about it? Using a little discretion in the workplace is wise. Besides, your life is special, not easily shared with the world.
Nationally recognized etiquette expert with over twenty years of providing trainings, and serving as a source for media.
Trainings are available for: corporations, sales teams, on-boarding, to support code-of-conduct policies to set a standard for employees, universities/college groups, school staff, customer service staff, dining etiquette programs for youth through adult, and actors preparing for audition/roles.
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Etiquette tips are general and serve as perspective and options. Every situation is unique.