Many people spend more time around their co-workers than their actual friends and families. So it makes sense that they’d want to talk about something other than work once in a while.
After all, a bit of healthy water cooler banter is important for developing a stronger rapport with your co-workers. (How did Susan land that promotion, anyway?) And if you’re particularly close with a couple of fellow employees, you might feel more comfortable openly discussing otherwise taboo topics.
That’s an easy way to land yourself in hot water. Talking about certain touchy subjects in most office environments could alienate your colleagues and even cost you a promotion.
Not sure what’s off limits? We gathered advice from career experts and human resources managers about what not to talk about at work.
1. How Much You Hated Your Last Job
“Even if someone had a truly horrifying experience in their previous industry or job, they should still be able to talk about their past employers in a positive way. If they rant about how much they hated their last job, this could make it seem like the employee doesn’t take responsibility for his or her own actions. It shows a sign of immaturity when they can’t at least share what was learned from the experience instead of placing blame on others.” ― Jason Carney, Human Resources director for WorkSmart Systems
2. Your Political Views
“I recommend avoiding talking about politics, though you’d be surprised by how many people bring up their political beliefs. I remember being in a meeting with someone senior to me who asked me my stance on a really hot topic. I knew that we had opposing viewpoints, but I was not in the appropriate place to have an engaging conversation with this person. He put me in an awkward situation because I did not want to lie about my strong convictions. But at the same time, it wasn’t the time or place to talk about them.” ― Sarah Johnston, recruiter and founder of The Briefcase Coach
3. How The Job Hunt Is Going
“It’s best not to talk about your interests in seeking employment elsewhere unless you are okay with your colleagues finding out. This is not to say you shouldn’t seek employment elsewhere; I’m a big believer in pursuing opportunities that honor your values and goals and there comes a time when your employer just isn’t providing what you need for fulfillment.
However, it’s best not to share your exit strategy with others, aside from perhaps your boss once you are sure you will be leaving. It opens the door for others to develop their own perceptions of your intentions, leading to anything from sabotaging your efforts to gossiping about your future plans. It might be hard to keep your mouth shut, but it’s important to trust in your own strategy before inviting everyone into your plan just because it feels good to vent.” ― Nihar K. Chhaya, president of PartnerExec
4. Medical Issues
“We’re not talking about sharing that you had a routine dental appointment ― it’s the more serious medical issues that you should refrain from discussing. Similar to marital problems, people often just don’t know how to react or respond in a work environment.” ― Annette Harris, president and founder of personal branding agency ShowUp!
5. Intimate Details About Your Personal Relationships
“While it’s perfectly acceptable to share your anniversary, family birthdays or your child’s accolades for team sports, be sure to keep the conversation steered in a positive direction. The moment the discussion goes left field, with a conversation about a cheating spouse or anything that is sexual in nature, it becomes uncomfortable in a work setting and is highly inappropriate.
If dealing with personal challenges with loved ones, be sure to discuss it with a trusted friend outside of the workplace. The risk with some ‘friendships’ in the workplace is the possibility of personal details being shared without permission to parties that shouldn’t be privy to that private information. This creates additional conflict and disruption to the business and also puts additional stress on all parties involved.” ― Nikita Lawrence, founder of Wealth Success Chamber Enterprises, LLC
6. Complaints About Your Co-workers Or Boss
“You might feel the need to vent your frustration to a work bud about something your boss or co-worker did that really pissed you off, but it’s never really worth it. Office gossip spreads like wildfire, and what you say to one person can easily get around to all the other employees in your department. You don’t want to end up costing yourself a promotion or a raise because you bad mouthed your boss that one time ages ago.” ― Peter Yang, co-founder and CEO of ResumeGo
7. Criticism Of The Company’s Strategy
“Refrain from bad-mouthing the company’s strategy or business decisions because you might one day find yourself promoted to a position where it is your job to advocate for the company’s direction. I’ve coached employees who would complain about their company’s leadership without considering that they should speak to the company’s leaders constructively about their concerns. And when they are promoted to the ranks of leadership, they are suddenly stuck in an authenticity crisis: Should they stick to their complaints or now buy into the company’s talking points? Neither one is the right answer. Instead, it’s best to be true to your concerns and express them in ways that drive the business forward from whichever position you are in.” ― Nihar K. Chhaya, president of PartnerExec
Responses have been edited or condensed for clarity.
CORRECTION: A previous version of this story incorrectly attributed the last quote. It is from Nihar K. Chhaya.