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Things You Shouldn't Say Out Loud at Work

Updated on April 25, 2016
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I'm a business communications coach who teaches writing, speaking, and leadership skills to adults in the midst of a career change.

If you want to be respected by your boss and get along with your co-workers, here are some things that you should never talk about at the office. From blabbing about your sex life to letting everyone know how much you get paid, some things just shouldn't be shared with the people you work with.

Gossiping at work is a habit to avoid if you want to get ahead.

If you can't keep the private details of your personal life to yourself, can you be trusted to keep other people's confidential information private too?
If you can't keep the private details of your personal life to yourself, can you be trusted to keep other people's confidential information private too?

Discretion Looks Good on a Leader

People who are successful at work and have a stable work-life balance are the ones who are good at maintaining solid emotional boundaries. That doesn’t mean that these folks are cold-hearted zombies who never talk about their feelings at work. They simply know that there are some things that shouldn't be discussed at work.

Rather than coming off as aloof because they don't talk about their personal lives in detail, people with good boundaries at work can actually more likable than people who like to blab about private matters. When people are too busy talking about themselves, they don’t have time to listen to other people. And people who are good listeners are perceived as being more approachable.

Five Things You Shouldn't Talk About at Work

1. You hate your job: This is one of the number one things that shouldn't be talked about at work, unless you want to get fired. No one likes to hang out with people who complain all the time. If you're always talking about how much you hate your job and how much you want to quit, you’ll be dragging your co-workers down rather than lifting them up. If you are unhappy at your job and you want to quit, that’s your business. You're free to love or hate your job. But you can be certain that if your boss finds out how much you dislike your job, he might be more than happy to move you along, out the door!

2. You think someone is doing a lousy job: You are entitled to your opinion, but that doesn't mean you need to share your thoughts with everyone. Putting someone else down, either out loud or behind their back, will make you look insecure. Instead of talking about how incompetent you think someone is, ask yourself If there is anything you can do to help that person improve? Can you be a mentor? Are you willing to share your experience to help a co-worker do a better job? If the answer is no, then you're part of the problem, too. If someone’s incompetence is putting you, your co-workers, or other people at risk, then of course you need to talk to your boss or human resources, discretely. Otherwise, let the higher-ups figure out how to manage an employee’s lack of skills.

3. Your political beliefs: Unless you're a politician whose career depends on everyone knowing your political leanings, is it really necessary for everyone to know of you are a liberal or a conservative? Politics is a topic that should be avoided at work because it’s much too easy for other people to attack you and your beliefs. Conversations about current affairs can accidentally veer off into awkward territory when your philosophical views about the world don’t align with the people you work with.

4. Offensive jokes: Telling jokes that are racist, sexist, or homophobic are big no-nos at the office. In fact, any joke that targets and makes fun of a marginalized or minority group should not be shared with your co-workers. You risk hurting your reputation by being seen as a bully. Any topics that can contribute to a toxic work environment shouldn't be talked about at work. Besides, even if telling bad jokes wasn’t detrimental to your career, why would you want to risk hurting someone’s feelings? Think about how what you say will make someone feel when you are deciding on things that shouldn't be talked about at work.

5. What you do behind closed doors: This is a topic that you definitely shouldn't talk about at work. Keep your sex life to yourself. There's no reason for anyone at work to know what you and your partner do for fun in the bedroom. Not only can sharing personal details about your sex life make other people feel uncomfortable, you could be accused of sexual harassment by talking about explicit topics at work.

And since we are on the topic of not talking about your sex life at work, here’s another no-no: talking about or commenting on other people’s sex lives. Gossiping about someone else’s relationships, their partners, or their sexual orientation is something you should never, ever do at work.

There are so many other interesting things to talk about at work instead of the off-limits topics list above. You could talk about your favorite recipe, a fascinating article you read on the weekend, your favorite holiday destination---you have so many options. And if you can't think of something to say that isn't on the taboo list, start conversations with your co-workers by asking them non-invasive questions. The more time you spend asking questions and listening carefully, the less time you'll have to stumble upon a topic that should be avoided at work.

If you socialize with your co-workers after hours, it's a wise idea to be mindful of how much alcohol you consume. You might end up over-sharing with your co-workers.
If you socialize with your co-workers after hours, it's a wise idea to be mindful of how much alcohol you consume. You might end up over-sharing with your co-workers.

I don't know what's hipper: to Facebook or to Twitter. I just know for me, personally, discretion never went out of style.

— John Ridley
If you're linked to your co-workers on social media sites, think twice before sharing any photos or status updates that you wouldn't want your boss to see.
If you're linked to your co-workers on social media sites, think twice before sharing any photos or status updates that you wouldn't want your boss to see.

The Hazards of Oversharing at Work

Letting out an mildy inappropriate comment here, or a TMI share there, isn't likely going to get you fired. But chronic oversharing can wreck your professional reputation. Here's what other people might be thinking if you start to reveal too much information about yourself:

  • You are an attention-seeker. Why else are you always talking about yourself and never listening?
  • You can't be trusted to keep other people's confidences. If you are loose with details about your own private life, why would you feel the need to protect the details of other people's private lives.
  • You're trying too hard to get people to like you because you think that getting really personal is the best way to make friends.
  • You are insensitive. Sharing too much information about yourself without being aware of how that impacts other people could be perceived selfish and insensitive because you are exposing people to issues and experiences that may be deeply triggering for them.

Gossip is hardly uplifting.

— Ginger Rogers

Successful employees and supervisors know how to read a situation before speaking. They're mindful about what they say. They aren't speaking to impress people or show off. They're speaking to communicate useful, valuable, relevant information. So, before you start blabbing and revealing too much about yourself, ask yourself if what you have to say will contribute to a meaningful, informative, non-toxic conversation. When you frame your conversations in this way, it will be much easier to steer clear of the things you shouldn't talk about at work.

© 2015 Sally Hayes

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