Navigating workplace social dynamics is a minefield, to say the least.
And with the lines between work and our personal lives becoming more and more blurred, it can be difficult to define what is appropriate and what is not.
It’s no surprise that many of us cross these boundaries and lose respect at work by discussing topics that are best avoided in professional settings.
But what are these things?
Let’s find out.
1) Personal finances & salary
When we get close to work colleagues, it can be tempting to speak to them about our salary and even ask them what they are making. Sharing some of our personal finance goals with them can also feel natural.
However, we should avoid it.
Sadly, when it comes to work, we don’t always know who our friends are, and revealing sensitive information like our salary and our financial goals can seem boastful, losing us respect and creating envy.
This is addressed in Robert Greene’s classic, The 48 Laws Of Power. In his second law, he writes: “Be wary of friends, they will betray you more quickly for they are easily aroused to envy”.
Aside from this, many of you will have employment contracts that stipulate that you should not talk about your salary with others. If you tell the wrong person, not only might it result in a loss of respect, it could have serious implications for your career.
This rule should be abided by even if it seems normal to talk about salary in your office. Just because every Bob, Dick, and Harry does it, doesn’t mean you should.
However, don’t get me wrong, it is crucial to ‘fit in’ at work, but that doesn’t mean we should participate in things that we know can really hurt us in the long run.
So what should we do?
As put by Greene in Law 38, “Think as you like but behave like others”. He goes on to write, “If you make a show of going against the times…, people will think that you only want attention and that you look down upon them”.
This is also alluded to in Richard Templar’s, The Rules of Work, in which he dedicates an entire section to blending in.
Think for yourself, but don’t make a show of being the better person or taking the high road. This sentiment will repeat itself throughout this article. Its importance can’t be understated.
The next point is a big one, and for most of you, it will come as no surprise that it made this list.
Talking about politics anywhere is like playing with a hand grenade; it may explode. At work, that explosion can have dire consequences. The possibility is simply best avoided.
If you start a conversation on politics with someone who disagrees with your views, which is likely to happen, the mood can get heated quickly.
This is true even if you don’t have strong political views. While we might intend to have a constructive conversation, it often doesn’t work out that way.
In my experience, this is especially true in the case of US politics. When we look at the data, it’s hardly a surprise.
Research suggests that “Republicans and Democrats are more divided along ideological lines – and partisan antipathy is deeper and more extensive – than at any point in the last two decades.”
I am not American, nor do I have strong views on US politics, but I once got into what I thought was mere small talk about a news story with an American colleague of mine at the time.
While we weren’t very close, we had worked together for almost a year, and generally, he was a calm, polite guy.
However, when the conversation turned to politics, this changed. He became very defensive and aggressive despite my not having a strong opinion on the issue. I didn’t disagree with him; I simply wasn’t clearly on his side.
I got out of the conversation as soon as I could and even apologized if I had said something to offend him, but our relationship was never the same again.
He never respected me again because he felt my view was wrong. In reality, I just didn’t share his view. I lost respect for him due to his loss of composure. It was a lose-lose interaction.
I am not saying that everyone is this way; not at all. However, some people can be very passionate about it, and engaging in heated political conversations is not for the workplace.
3) Office gossip
You know this one too. But we all still do it from time to time.
As human beings, it can feel like we are programmed to talk about other people. While gossiping, in general, should be avoided, it is essential to steer clear of it in the office.
Richard Templar alludes to this in his popular book, The Rules of Work, dedicating an entire rule to it. He writes that gossip is for “idle” minds or those that do not have enough work to do or who have “mindless jobs”.
Crucially, however, Templar also advises readers not to be all self-righteous about this. That is, we shouldn’t tell others how wrong it is to gossip or criticize them for doing so. We should simply not do it ourselves.
4) Personal relationships & problems
This is common advice. Most seasoned professionals will tell you that personal matters should be kept just that: personal.
That is, you should avoid sharing too much personal information at work, particularly related to your romantic relationships or problems in your personal life.
This is also covered in many books on the topic, but most notably in Templar’s The Rules of Work, in which one rule reads, “Keep your home life at home”.
It can be tempting to do so, though. We all need to get things off our chests’ from time to time, and with colleagues being with us for so many of our waking hours, it’s easy for things to slip out.
Sometimes, we might even do it intentionally to foster deeper relationships with the people we work with.
However, this can and will often be seen as oversharing and a sign of low social intelligence.
The truth is that most people, aside from your close friends and family, don’t want to hear about your problems. It is generally frowned upon by upper management and can result in you losing respect and opportunities to progress.
Worse yet, some colleagues may use it against you in the future. You don’t want to give people ammunition like this.
This may seem harsh. We all need to share things, but there are better places to do it than work. Look to your close friends and trusted family members for advice on such personal issues.
Nowadays, there is little more divisive than politics, but if one other topic could compete for the top spot, it would be religion.
Religious beliefs are deeply personal, and discussing them is best avoided in professional settings.
Seemingly normal conversations on religion can inadvertently alienate or offend coworkers with different beliefs. Such discussions can lead to misunderstandings, discomfort, or even discrimination concerns.
Even if people are not religious, the topic can still bring up childhood memories and experiences that are uncomfortable for many.
If you want to maintain respect from as many people as possible at work, talking about religion is best avoided.
The bottom line
You might believe that we should be able to discuss whatever we want at work, that we should be free to express ourselves, however we see fit. And you might be right. Maybe we should.
However, what we should be able to do is often different than what we should do.
If you want to be respected at work, it’s best to avoid discussing the above topics.
You might get away with it sometimes, and you may have gotten away injury-free in the past, but there will come a time when you lose a lot of respect for doing so. I think most of us would agree that it’s best to avoid that possibility.
As always, I hope this post was enjoyable to read and that it provided you with some food for thought.
Until next time.