what subjects are totally off-limits for office chat?

A reader writes:

This morning while browsing my local news site, I came across the column of a local life adviser for the site. The column usually musters a respectable handful of comments, but today it sort of blew up into a discussion.

The subject of the column today was things that should never ever be discussed at work, and listed politics, religion, personal lives, alternate health, and money/health troubles.

While I can see what the columnist was getting at, I don’t know if I can fully agree all of these must be fully checked at the door. Making sure one is mindful of knowing one’s audience, realizing one is at work, and keeping things in check, sure.

So I thought I would bring the question to you. Do you think these are solid no-nos? Some but not others? Do you have any things you think are solid no-nos for workplace discussion?

I don’t agree that none of those should ever be discussed at work — but they’re all things that can cause problems depending on the people involved.

Politics: If two people want to discuss politics at work and can do it in a way that’s respectful and doesn’t leave either of them less enthused about working with the other, I don’t see any reason they can’t — but those are really big caveats that sometimes get overlooked. The other thing that’s key with this one is that you need to be respectful of people not involved in the conversation too — your coworkers shouldn’t have to be a captive audience to political discussions that they didn’t sign up for. So no doing it in an open office space with others around, for example.

Religion: Similar to politics, if two people want to have a private, respectful conversation about religion, it’s not inherently wrong to do that at work, as long as both are enthusiastically consenting to participate, as long as it’s not a conversation that’s going to cause hard feelings or weirdness later, and as long as no one else is forced to listen to it. The problem, of course, is that people are notoriously bad at judging what other people really find welcome, and so many people are socialized to be nice that it’s difficult to know if someone really welcomes the discussion you’re having or if they just feel uncomfortable cutting it off. Something like evangelizing is obviously problematic, but there can be problems with other things too — like you might feel like it’s fine to ask your coworker about her Yom Kippur traditions, while she’s frustrated that it’s the fifth time this week she’s been made to feel like the Other in your office. So you’ve got to tread really carefully here, with a really high degree of sensitivity to where others might be coming from (which is not most humans’ strong suit).

Personal lives: It would be a pretty chilly office that never talked about personal lives. Most people do some degree of sharing with coworkers about their personal lives — mentioning what they did over the weekend or that a family member is ill or that they’re getting a new puppy or so forth. It’s true, though, that the boundaries are different at work than they would be with friends. In most cases, you shouldn’t be going into detail about your relationship problems or what you talked to your therapist about or other highly personal topics. But more casual conversation about your personal life isn’t off-limits, and most people find that being able to share who they are outside of work makes work a better place to be. There are obviously exceptions to this, like if you’re in an environment that will penalize you for who you are outside of work. And some people just prefer not to, which is fine too. (And one distinction I want to make: It’s not okay for your employer to require you to share about your personal life.)

Alternative health: Again, it depends on the details. It’s fine to offer your coworker with a cold some echinacea tea. It’s not fine to talk incessantly about your experience with rebirthing therapy. “Alternative health” covers such a wide range of things though, and some of it is pretty damn mainstream at this point. I don’t see any reason you can’t mention that you’ve been doing acupuncture for headaches or tried out ear candling — but “don’t push medical advice” and “don’t talk incessantly about any one topic” are good advice in general, not just for alternative medicine.

Money/health troubles: It’s true that your coworkers really, really don’t want to hear about your money problems, and you’re likely to make people uncomfortable if you talk about them. But health troubles? I mean, yes, you shouldn’t go on and on and on about a health problem (just like you shouldn’t go on and on and on about any non-work topic), and you shouldn’t overshare personal or gross details, but it’s fine to mention that you were out yesterday with the flu or that you’re dealing with a serious health issue that may affect your work. That said, you do want to be thoughtful about how you do that, and you need to know your workplace; if you’re working somewhere that will penalize you for having cancer, obviously you need to proceed accordingly, and the reality is that mental health issues are still stigmatized in way that other health issues aren’t.

Interestingly, they left the biggest no-go off their list: sex. Unless you’re a sexual health educator or otherwise do work where sex will come up, pretty much no one needs to be or should be talking about sex at work.

{ 370 comments… read them below }

  1. Kelly AF*

    I think in some respects, my co-workers know me better than my friends, if only because I spend so much time with my co-workers, and we chat frequently. Also, I’m on a team of four women aged 25 to 35, so we do talk some about things like our relationships and cramps and so on.

    1. Meteor*

      I agree! I know my coworkers’ husbands and kids pretty well, just from the daily morning/lunchtime conversations about our lives. It’s inevitable if you get along well with your coworkers and sit close enough to have occasional conversations throughout the day. And I think it helps us understand each other more, and work better together.

    2. motherofdragons*

      Exactly. The “know your audience and their level of consent” is so important. I talk about some pretty personal stuff with my coworkers, but we do it in the privacy of my office with a closed door and quiet voices so as not to unwittingly drag anyone else into the conversation.

  2. SKA*

    If my coworker got a new puppy and *didn’t* tell me about it, I might get upset. Show me those pup pics, coworkers!

      1. Lawgurl06*

        I, too, am in full support of all of the puppy and kitty photos … any time. Please don’t stop showing me those.

        1. AK*

          I’m currently involved in an email thread with two other managers where we’ve sent near daily photos of our pets for weeks. It’s been a really great way to de-stress for a few minutes in our busiest time of year!

    1. Kalamet*

      One of my coworkers added a pets channel to our company Slack, and we got nothing done the rest of the day. :)

    2. Silicon Valley Girl*

      We have a department slack channel dedicated to pet photos & chat! Best use of technology ever ;)

    3. Classic Rando*

      I don’t have any pets, but today I found a hawk in my bird bath, and made sure to share a pic with my coworkers :)

  3. Lil Fidget*

    This is one of those things that varies a little by office culture, too. I’ve worked in some offices where *any* non-work chat was kind of given the side-eye, because that culture was very “we’re all here to do the work, not to socialize, and most of our focus should always be on work tasks.” Literally maybe a sentence or two in a day were expected to be off-topic. Other offices are a lot more open to sharing and small talk. None of the examples cited by OP have much plausible work connection so it’s usually good to err on the all-business side until you see what the culture really is.

    1. Antilles*

      Your office is at the ultra-extreme end. Honestly, I’d guess that a large number people would almost be unnerved by the absolute lack of small talk/chit-chat – especially in the various bits of downtime that come up naturally during the day.
      Also, how does this work practically. Like, when people show up a little early to a meeting, do you all just awkwardly sit there in silence until things get started? When you pass someone in the hall, do you intentionally avoid doing the usual “good morning”? If someone is sitting in the break room and you go to grab a glass of water, you can’t even do the 45-second “hey, how’s it going?” routine?
      And if this attitude is really that prevalent in the culture, I wonder how you guys manage to get clients – as illogical at it is, this kind of mostly-superficial chit-chat actually does help establish bonds and connections. At the end of the day, if the product and price are close, that feeling of “I just feel like I can trust Wakeen’s Teapots more than Emotionless Designers Inc” often ends up being a key factor in picking one over the other.

      1. Falling Diphthong*

        I’d guess that a large number people would almost be unnerved by the absolute lack of small talk.

        “Omigod, I’ve fallen into a CIA cover business!”

      2. alienor*

        I’m imagining it like a caricature of 1950s/60s businessmen where all their “downtime” chitchat is still about work:

        “Hello Jim, how’s Big Account coming along?”
        “Oh fine, fine, the Q2 projections are looking excellent.”
        “Smashing! Well, let’s start the meeting.”

      3. Elaine*

        I’ve worked in a place where no talking during work hours was permitted – about anything! I started to explain how it works, but decided it is getting off topic. But there are places like that and they are weird.

          1. Elaine*

            Correct. If you were talking, you weren’t working. If you had to ask a question, you were to go to your supervisor and no one else.

            1. Sandman*

              I worked at a place like that, too. I don’t know if that sort of thing can be done well, but this office was really dysfunctional in a lot of ways.

        1. Stan Lee (not the famous one)*

          I can’t speak for everybody but I think it’s okay to risk veering into off-topic territory for this one.

          Just how does a “no talking” workplace work?

          1. Elaine*

            We administered employee benefits programs, so most of us were non-exempt and as Logan guessed below, there were productivity targets. We literally were not allowed to speak to one another except before and after work, or during scheduled breaks and lunch. If you had a question, you could go to your supervisor, but no one else. A bell rang and you were to be at your desk working. No talking, no bathroom breaks and no food or beverage of any kind at your desk. If you were eating/drinking, you weren’t working. Smoking was OK, though. No surprise there as the CEO was a heavy smoker. This was in the early 80’s before smoking was not allowed in the workplace.

            I really am grateful for Alison’s point that dysfunction work places mess with your head until you no longer have a solid sense of what is normal. Thirty years later I still catch myself behaving in ways that I learned at that horrible job. And at the time, I didn’t even think it was that bad!

            1. Lance*

              No talking, or bathroom breaks, or food/drink? And you start work at the ring of a bell? Are you sure this was a workplace, and not grade school? (though hell, even grade school at least affords people being able to run to the bathroom, and talk, so maybe I have to think of something else to compare…)

              1. Elaine*

                Yes, I often thought it felt worse than school. It was my first office job after completing my degree and I started just before a recession, so changing jobs wasn’t a simple option. I stayed there 15 years, getting more and more screwed up about how a job should work. And I think I’ve strayed way off topic now and should stop.

        2. sleepwakehopeandthen*

          I worked in a lab once where you were only allowed to talk to ask relevant lab-related questions. We were not being paid hourly (we were all students–I wasn’t even being paid). It was especially absurb because there was no particular job-related reason for all of this silence.

      4. londonedit*

        I worked in an office like this, and it was deeply unnerving. It was a pretty stressful place to be in general, thanks to the utterly toxic boss/owner, but people hardly spoke at all, let alone chatted about non-work stuff. The boss was the sort who would glance at someone’s computer screen and demand to know what they were doing, berate them for thinking they should be working on that, and order them to work on something else, so non-work chat was definitely frowned upon and it was seriously weird. The boss also banned everyone from having group Slack chats that didn’t involve her.

    2. ExcelJedi*

      I’ve never worked in a place like this: everywhere I’ve worked has at least had off-topic conversations around the coffeepot/water cooler or in the lunchroom. Genuinely curious: What kind of industry wouldn’t even accept that?

      1. Logan*

        I’m going to guess one where they have targets for productivity, in an unhealthy work environment.

        1. Lil Fidget*

          Whoops, sorry I didn’t circle back to answer. It was actually a fine office, but they had high sales targets, and most of the roles were independent of each other (and on the phone a lot). As I said, there was definitely a sentence or two of chat – “Hi Chris, how was your weekend?” “Oh, good lil fidget, thanks, yours?” – and then at lunch or the end of the day another similar exchange. People might say like, “Mondays, amiright?” to each other in passing. But we sure didn’t get around to politics, health care, or religion at all. Sometimes I kind of miss it! (but I recognize I’m in the minority here).

          1. Antilles*

            Ah okay, that makes more sense. The way it was originally worded made me think that you’d get in trouble for basically any talk which wasn’t directly job related – something more like what Elaine described. Keeping it to only very minor passing comments / a couple of sentences here and there is still on the low end but not nearly as extreme as I was envisioning.

  4. Jordan*

    Once, I was forced to explain the website known as goatse to my manager and our PR lead when someone in our organization published something with some goatse-inspired art in it. That was not fun.

    If you’re reading this and you don’t know what I’m talking about, please don’t go looking.

    1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      My kids were teenagers and newgrounds members when that came out, so yes, I’m properly shocked right now.

    2. Handy Nickname*

      Please someone give me a euphemised version before I google it, because I’m too curious to not know, but don’t want the images burned in my brain.

      1. Yay commenting on AAM!*

        Look it up on Urban Dictionary first, they usually have a summary with no pictures.

        I work with teenagers, anytime they ask me about (word I don’t know) with a smirk on their face I look it up before I answer. Kiddos, I may not be up to date on my slang but I’m not stupid.

      2. High Score!*

        Some people love goats a little too much… I’m regretting googling this, searching for brain bleach….

      3. Qosanchia*

        It’s a particularly graphic image from behind of a man bending over with his pants down or off. “Back in the day” it was popular to send unsuspecting people on forums or chat rooms links to the site, to get them to open the image and catch them unawares.

        The euphemized description there doesn’t really do justice to the image, but it gets the basic gist, I think.

      4. RabbitRabbit*

        It’s a photo of a man’s rear-end. He has inserted multiple fingers from both hands, rectally, and is allowing the viewer to see exactly how far he can, uh, “part” down there. A number of jokesters have used the image’s general outlines to create trick meme images that evoke the photo without actually showing anything overtly obscene, like ‘It’s God parting the clouds and letting sun shine through,” etc.

        1. Flash Bristow*

          That’s actually a really good and well balanced description, inasmuch as it can be.

          Well done!

          So far in the responses to this post (all of them not just this fork) I’ve started, typed, then gone “no… I can’t” and deleted the best part of a dozen comments.

          Not sure whether to be entertained or grossed out! I’m sure Alison is no wallflower, but… (!)

          Seriously well done for the explanation about how that meme works, especially the clouds parting.

          1. RabbitRabbit*

            Thank you! I wondered whether “rectally” was going too far (I work in the medical field, we have a different standard for that kind of thing), but figured it was as clinical and precise as possible without being too gross. Plus descriptive in order to make the comparison of “so that was pretty… iconic of an image and the two-hands-parting-something imagery might be an accidental troll instead of a nice cartoony picture.”

    3. Wednesday's Child*

      I had to explain what a safeword is, because my boss persistently used “safeword” instead of “password.”
      “Wednesday, what was my safeword again?” “I can never remember my safeword.” “Why do they ask me for a safeword every single time?!”

      1. Not Maeby But Surely*

        I’m dying right now! It’s very important to remember both one’s safeword and one’s password.

      2. A tester, not a developer*

        Imagine the hijinks if one’s safeword had to include a letter, a number, and a special character.

      3. SheLooksFamiliar*

        While we’re on the subject…a former boss was talking about her parents’ Golden Anniversary. They wanted to renew their vows, and Boss thought it would be fun to treat it like a first wedding, with a bridal shower and bachelor/bachelorette party. She showed me the invitations she’d made, including one for the Golden Shower.

        She hadn’t sent any out yet, and I don’t know whose face was redder – hers or mine. But I HAD to tell her why I was laughing so hard.

      4. Very anon*

        My dad once tried to get us all to smile for Thanksgiving by telling us that he really wanted this one to be the money shot.

        My sister and I both yelled “DAD! NO! Bad usage!” He asked what the problem was. I started to dance around it a bit, but my sister had no patience for it gave him the full, unsanitized version. My sister is awesome.

        1. Mallory Janis Ian*

          Ahaha! My former boss ran into trouble with that phrase when he did a lecture at a university and referred to one of the pictures of his work as the money shot. He got called out on that by the students and it made their student paper.

        2. Decima Dewey*

          At the job I worked at to put myself through library school, there was a executive who always referred to a quick memo as “quickie”. And never got why his secretary got upset when he said it.

          FWIW I was working there when the place got electric typewriters.

        3. JSPA*

          See, I’ve seen it in old hollywood trade publications from long before it was a common porn term / reference. Porn borrowed it–but dad should still be allowed to use the original meaning, if he wishes. (He’s not misusing something he misunderstood.) It’s like your great granny having a gay old time at her wedding, or the pussy enjoying her bowl of cream, or the cock crowing three times. Perfectly good usages, all of them, in context.

      5. Ann O'Nemity*

        Our President Emeritus was fond of the expression “shoot my wad” to mean expend all efforts. Apparently the expression dates back to the Civil War and referred to the wadding used in rifles, so it was perfectly innocent. The Director of Operations had to have an awkward conversation with him about more modern usage of the expression.

        1. Ann O'Nemity*

          Also, last year some politician made the news for using the same expression. The Twitter-verse was just as amused as my coworkers had been.

      6. Envy Adams*

        Someone I knew as a teenager thought having a fetish for something just meant she really liked it! So she’d come out with sentences like “I have a real fetish for tuna sandwiches” or something.

        1. Wednesday's Child*

          Amazingly, my workmate used fetish the same way. And also used “trolloping” for wandering or gallivanting. As in “I trolloped all over town looking for a good restaurant.”

          I never could decide if my office was overly sheltered or I was unusually well-versed in certain areas. Ultimately I decided that I was just online way more than they were.

          1. Someone Else*

            I suspect that person may have been inadvertently smashing together “traipsing” and “gallop”.

      7. Red 5*

        We once had to explain to a coworker why she shouldn’t use any other spellings of the word “come” in group texts to coworkers.

        She thought she was just basically using an abbreviation.

    4. RJ the Newbie*

      When you’ve done nothing but expense reports and billing summaries for the past week, this is a challenge!
      Oh my…was not expecting that. Still better than one more damn expense report.

    5. Archie Goodwin*

      Oh, dear God.

      I can sympathize. I had to explain it to someone once in a social context. So I could be a BIT more forthcoming. But still, not something I’m comfortable discussing with many people AT ALL.

    6. Anonymous Celebrity*

      Oh, come on! You can’t expect people to NOT try to find out what that means. I didn’t know, and now I do. Yeah, doesn’t sound appropriate for work…or for while I’m eating. (I settled for an “executive summary” of what the words mean without any jarring images. Once I read the summary, that was enough for me. Yech).

    7. LGC*

      …my mouth is agape right now. (Cue joke about how that’s not the only thing that’s agape hurr hurr hurr.)

      Also I have SO MANY QUESTIONS starting with what kind of campaign would lend itself to Goatse-inspired artwork.

    8. fnom*

      On a related note, our former CEO suggested at an internal meeting that someone on vacation with their family could ‘Netflix and chill’ in the hotel room.
      I’m not sure anyone told him, but boy howdy did that make a really long and boring meeting more…interesting…

      1. Elemeno P.*

        I teach English as a second language on the weekends, and I explained that phrase to my students (all adults!) a couple of weeks ago. We were talking about dating, so it was relevant. Their reaction was hilarious.

      2. SusanIvanova*

        I’m still not sure how it picked up the context it did – when did “chill” stop meaning “relax”?

        1. CC*

          I suspect it derives from the “chill girl” … er, “ideal”. Meaning, the girlfriend who has no needs, but is always there for sex when the boyfriend wants it. So “netflix and chill” is a date where zero effort is put in to show the other person a good time, just sit on the couch, put on netflix, and go straight to sex, because a “chill girl” doesn’t need any effort before agreeing to sex on a date.

          It’s kind of disgusting, honestly.

          1. Elemeno P.*

            I don’t think it’s that deep? When I was in college, the equivalent was, “Do you want to come over and watch a movie?” Depending on the person, that either meant a) legitimately wanting to platonically watch a movie or b) putting on a movie and then hooking up. It’s just a way to see if the other person is also interested in casual sex, not a way of saying they’re not worth the effort of a date.

    9. SusanIvanova*

      Shortly after they put in a web filter, someone in marketing put up a (thankfully internal) document that used “tea bag” in a way that was valid but also violated the “run it past a 12-year old and see if they snigger” rule of marketing.

      We joked that it could’ve been avoided if only they hadn’t put Urban Dictionary on the block list.

  5. Matilda Jefferies*

    And even if you are a sexual health educator, you shouldn’t be talking about your personal sex life, preferences, etc. You might get some specific scenarios from clients that would need a response, but for the most part you’re talking about sex *in general*, rather than about any one person.

  6. TeacherNerd*

    I think it’s that fine line that people are so bad at understanding. I have colleagues who like share every aspect of their lives with everyone – students included; this makes me cringe. Aside from not being someone who likes sharing this info with my colleagues anyway, I really don’t want my students knowing the minutiae about my (thankfully very uninteresting) personal life. (This makes me wonder, too, why teachers who overshare don’t recognize that their students don’t really care about the level and depth of details that are being shared.) There’s that fuzzy line between personal and private that’s different for everyone, but that so many folks are bad at recognizing.

    1. That Would be a Good Band Name*

      When I was a high school student, we always knew which teachers would overshare and we’d deliberately get them going. If they go off on a tangent that is unrelated to classwork, that was less homework for us!

    2. BottleBlonde*

      My AP Psychology teacher in high school, Mr. Smith (not his real name) was so notorious for oversharing his personal life that we all started referring to it as our AP Smith class! I still know so much more about his life than I ever wanted to know.

    3. Ok_Go_West*

      I used to teach high school, and I never told students anything about myself, even during first-day introductions. One parent approached me at Back To School Night to tell me how “weird” she thought this was and she believed I should have given more background on myself. Well, thanks. I believed (and still do) that it’s about the learning, it’s not about me, but I probably could have loosened up a little.

    4. Humble Schoolmarm*

      I’m ok with sharing a bit but I keep it short, relatable and fairly bland. I’ll chime in when the class is discussing weekend plans but with something like “I went curling and my team had it’s first win!” I’ll also join in conversations about things like Harry Potter and Hamilton. Beyond that I try to keep my tangents to random geeky science or history questions (they think they’ve distracted me, but little do they know they’re actually learning something).

    5. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      My both sons had an AP history teacher (same one, but three years apart) who was like that. My younger son bonded with him over their similar tastes in music, and took most of this teacher’s extensive vinyl collection off his hands to start his own (which is now to close to 2000 records, and is all located in my house, thanks A LOT, Mr. B! lol)

      But my oldest and his classmates took a very practical approach to it. He once told me, “everyone in class knows, if you want to relax and take it easy and do nothing in history class, then at the very start of the class, ask Mr. B why the Beatles broke up.”

  7. UT HR Guy*

    With any discussion topic, it’s all about knowing where the line is and when to stop before it gets crossed. These are all topics that can be discussed… but the line is delicate and not everyone gets it.
    But SEX? Just don’t go there.

    1. Anonymous Celebrity*

      Most jobs I’ve had have involved talk about sex. Not details of sexual activities, but endless fascination about who was having sex with whom. I didn’t care, but I was amazed at how interested other people were in this topic. Unless I’m personally involved, I really don’t care who you’re screwing, or who Jim in the next cube is screwing. I guess some folks never get out of middle school. Yeah, people have sex. Duh.

  8. katherine*

    From what I know about local papers I’m pretty sure “personal lives” is used here as a euphemism.

        1. Washi*

          A dog whistle? I mainly know that phrase as related to coded racist language. Am I not getting something about “personal lives”?

          1. An Amazing Detective-Slash-Genius*

            “Dog whistle” is a way to say a deeply hidden message behind saying something else…this is the only way I’ve heard the phrase used…

            The dog whistle here is that the local paper column is probably not allowed to say “sex” so they say “personal lives” instead.

            1. JB (not in Houston)*

              I think “euphemism” is probably a better word choice here? I’ve only heard “dog whistle” to mean “referring to something in a way that would get me in trouble if most people understood my meaning, and I need plausible deniability, but the people who agree with me on this will know what I mean, and this is my signal to them.” Hence why it’s often used in racist contexts. Like a dog whistle, which dogs (the intended audience) can hear, but humans cannot. But just using one word to refer to something else that you don’t want to or can’t say say directly/explicitly, when you assume or hope that most people will know what you mean, isn’t a dog whistle.

              1. An Amazing Detective-Slash-Genius*

                Oh that’s interesting, and actually this plausible deniability definition of dog whistle would work here too! I think it’s safe to say that it wasn’t meant to be racist

          2. JSPA*

            Normally, it’s anything coded that plays to some group who’s “in the know.” The rest of the world can’t hear the frequency, so they hear a vague, muted, generally inoffensive statement. Could be race, could be gender politics, could be class, could be armed insurrection, it could be religious–it’s not the content that defines it, it’s that the words have some major meaning for a subset of the audience, or in a particular context.

            Like, if you’re talking about a machine, “efficiency” is an absolute good thing, right? But if you’re talking about the new boss having commitment to efficiency, that means either there will be firings, or you’ll be timed on your bathroom breaks, or the assembly line will be sped up to weed out slower workers, even at risk of carpal tunneling half the workforce. Someone can stumble into a dog whistle, without meaning it.

            “Personal life” has sometimes been used to mean “being LGBT(etc) or in a relationship other than marriage” in areas and at times where cis, het, early, procreative marriage was a presumed norm. In my area, I don’t hear it that way anymore, but I’m sure it’s still 30 years ago, somewhere.

    1. Seeking Second Childhood*

      Or he’s the kind of person who jumps from someone acknowledging that s/he is gay to that person is talking about sex.

  9. Pet All The Dogs*

    I work in an office built on over-sharing of personal lives and it annoys me to no end. I don’t know if it’s just non-profit culture, Bay Area/CA workplace culture, or the fact that the social atmosphere was built by young, FOMO types. So sick of invasive icebreaker questions about the past and childhood, crossing of my boundaries because I don’t care to share my dating life, and the constant pressure to be best friends with everyone. I’m one of the few that just sees the place as a job, as opposed to some deep bonding experience that I’ll reflect on as the greatest job ever later in life.

    1. Not just your job*

      Not just Bay Area/Non-profit. My old marketing agency job in NYC had that same exact culture. A good majority of the people I worked with day-to-day enjoyed sharing too many details of their life. Detailed explanations of why someone broke up with their bf, how someone is annoyed at another woman talking to her husband, how the director needed to leave right now because his kid got into a fight at school and the school won’t release the kid until he got there, etc. I am like you, I prefer to keep my personal life private and don’t feel the need to discuss these topics with people I work with.

      My old coworker who held the same title as me felt that it was completely ok to ask OUR BOSS if she had ever had a one-night stand while we were driving somewhere on a business trip. I was in the back seat and pretended to be asleep. While my old boss was uncomfortable with the question, she did make some attempt to answer along the lines of “I think everyone has one of these…” without alluding to herself. My old boss was also one of the people who enjoyed oversharing but even this question made me uncomfortable!

    2. sfigato*

      I am also in bay area nonprofits, and I get a little frustrated that everyone assumes everyone else is an athiest who is totally progressive politically.I say this as a liberal athiest.

      1. Pet All The Dogs*

        Could probably fill a book with quirks/weirdness/questionable things found in Bay Area workplaces (if there’s not one already). This place is definitely in its own bubble, sealed off from how the rest of the world works.

    3. Revanche @ A Gai Shan Life*

      Doesn’t just apply to the younguns. I worked for a pair of bosses in their 40s and 70s who absolutely required you to be overly personal in order to be part of the team. They wanted to know everything about our personal lives and would go out of their way to taunt and alienate anyone (me) who declined to overshare. It was gross.

      1. Isabel Kunkle*

        Oh, God. One of my jobs back in 2009ish:
        Me: “Hey, $OtherAdmin, I have to take a long lunch–my friend’s getting married this weekend and I need to get my bridesmaid’s dress hemmed.”
        $OtherAdmin: “Marriage, huh? Let me tell you about *marriage*–” Cue twenty minute explanation of how she’d been married but she’d stopped wanting to have sex when she had a kid and her husband cheated on her so she was going to divorce him but he died before she could so she still can call herself a widow in church.
        Me: “Huh.”

        As a writer/roleplayer, I’d always been taught that having people spill their entire backstory after three seconds of conversation was unrealistic. Apparently not so much.

    4. Woodswoman*

      I’m in the Bay Area and have worked for a few nonprofits over the years, and this oversharing thing is definitely not part of where I’ve worked. Thank goodness for that.

  10. Guacamole Bob*

    This also overlooks the nuances of the word “discussed.” There’s a difference between talking about your family celebration of a religious holiday or mentioning that you have a Bible study that evening, and having a detailed discussion about theology. Or between making an offhand comment about a national news story versus getting into a real debate.

    1. Annie Moose*

      ^^ this. I think politics and religion can certainly be mentioned in general in an office, but once it goes beyond a reference into specifics of belief, that’s when it starts to tip toward inappropriate. Unless you really, REALLY know your audience and, as Alison said, everyone who can hear you is enthusiastically involved (and it isn’t interfering with your ability to work together).

    2. An Amazing Detective-Slash-Genius*

      +1 for sure. I talk about my church friends at work sometimes because I’m new to the city and it makes my coworkers happy to know that I’m finding a group of friends here (they have told me this explicitly). They know I’m involved in a church group, but they don’t know anything further, not even which church.

    3. There's Always Money in the Banana Stand*

      Right. In most cases, mentioning something religious or political at work wouldn’t be an issue–just don’t wander into the evangelizing, debating, or badgering a coworker about their beliefs/thoughts realm.

    4. Guacamole Bob*

      There’s also the question of how to handle it when a political issue is very personal. I think in many offices it’s fine to talk about how politics is impacting your life. People from my office live in multiple states, and in a context of people chatting about office and home locations I mentioned that I wouldn’t move from my current state because [other state] could become a legally difficult place for my family if the new Supreme Court ever hears another case on marriage equality. I had multiple female coworkers who acknowledged that they were having trouble concentrating during the Kavanaugh hearings. We discussed a bit about the Muslim travel ban this summer because it came out when we had a Muslim summer intern from a different country. Each of these could be perceived as someone “talking politics,” but that’s because the personal is political.

      1. Anon Anon Anon*

        Exactly. And that’s also one of the main reasons that casually bringing up your views can be problematic. Imagine if someone said they supported the travel ban and the intern who could be affected by it was right there. Politics are personal so they should be treated somewhat delicately unless you’re among friends and you know what people are comfortable with.

      2. The Gollux (Not a Mere Device)*

        Or, where do you draw the line between “I’m making get-out-the-vote phone calls this weekend” (patriotic, civic engagement, all good), “I’m making GOTV calls for Yes on 3 this weekend,” and “I’m making GOTV calls for Yes on 3 this weekend. This issue is important to me because…”?

        I am confident that most of my local friends agree with me on this issue; that doesn’t mean I assume that my downstairs neighbors or eye doctor do. (This city may be 90% on my side, but 90% isn’t 100%, and while the polls are in our favor it’s not 90%-10%.)

  11. Apocalypse How*

    I was having a short meeting with one coworker who is a level above me, though not my supervisor. At one point, she explained to me that she was tired because her 8-year-old daughter still wet the bed and they were trying this way of solving it that meant my coworker had to get up in the middle of the night. That really felt like TMI territory. I don’t have children, so this wasn’t two coworkers commiserating about their children’s health problems. I hadn’t asked for detailed information like that about her kids, and the daughter is at an age where I think she would be embarrassed about people outside her family knowing about this.

    1. Elizabeth Proctor*

      I agree that’s too much detail, especially about a child that age. “I’m tired because my 8 year old daughter is having some issues that are causing me to get up in the middle of the night” is plenty of info if wants to say more than “I’m tired because I didn’t sleep well” (and she may want to give more info since this is presumably a more-than-one-night thing).

    2. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      Very much agree with your last point. Up until a certain age, almost anything your kids say and do can be spun into a cute story. After a certain age though, it becomes less “cute story” and more “giving embarrassing personal information about my children to random people”.

      1. NeonFireworks*

        I have friends who are beginning to do this. “Look at [6-year-old] with a giant booger on his shirt! Doesn’t it make you just fall down laughing?” No – it makes me feel terrible for [6-year-old] that he’s getting gossiped about.

      2. Parenthetically*

        Yes. Kids are people who deserve respect, and there comes an age where it’s really, really not OK any more to just share details of their lives without consent. Would that 8-year-old be COMPLETELY embarrassed to know that this person mom and dad had over for dinner one night knows that they wet the bed? Duh.

        Once again this year, that video of the mom taking the “lid” off the jack-o-lantern because it was making her 3 year old scream and cry in sadness and terror (while she laughed hysterically) was going the rounds, and every time I saw it it made me feel sick to my stomach. Of course a jack-o-lantern isn’t a real person. A little kid doesn’t know that. Terrifying them for the amusement of the internet (or your work friends) is sick. It’s not ok to mock people, regardless of their size or maturity.

        1. Stinky Socks*

          YAAAAASSSSS. Respect your kid’s privacy. If I really want to describe something hysterical on Facebook, I don’t get real specific as to *who* said/did the funny thing.

      3. Baby Fishmouth*

        Yeah, one of the men I support came in one day and told EVERYONE that his 12 year old daughter had her first period. Including other adult men. Most people were pretty uncomfortable hearing this, and I felt so much secondhand embarrassment for his poor daughter!

    3. seller of teapots*

      As an exhausted mother to a 2-year old who doesn’t sleep….sleep deprivation can give your judgement a run for it’s money. Maybe she realized it was an overshare, but didn’t realize it until it was too late?

      1. Working Mom Having It All*

        Yeah, I think this particular instance is tough because, when you have a baby or toddler, “how are you sleeping?” is a HUGE entry level small talk question that people will ask you. My kid is an OK sleeper so I’ve never felt compelled to go into detail at work, but I can definitely see someone who was habituated to staying “my toddler woke up multiple times last night because he’s cutting a set of molars” a few years ago not realizing that nobody wants to hear about it when the kid is 8.

        1. Nonsensical*

          My father still has ‘funny’ stories written on his website from when I was between age 2 to 11.

      2. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

        That is a good point. Thankfully I’ve gotten to the point in my life where, if I’m running on 3-4 hours of sleep less than I should be, I am just unable to talk, much less overshare anything. Where was that super power when I was habitually not getting enough sleep when my kids were young?

    4. RandomusernamebecauseIwasboredwiththelastone*

      I wouldn’t have batted an eye at this being shared at work. I guess unless she went into gory details about the bed wetting I don’t think it goes into the oversharing bucket.

      I think it comes down to the know who you are talking to and who is listening rule.

      The most awkward conversation I was ever involved in at work was with two colleagues, one of which was a new mom. Don’t ask me how the conversation turned here but before I knew it the two were discussing nipple tenderness in great detail. I do not hide expression well at all on my face and this occasion was no different. The two finally looked in my direction and one said “Umm.. I guess we should change the subject” I mean seriously guys, really?!? On what planet do you want to be remembered by your coworkers as the one who had tender nipples. It’s been 10 years and I still think of that conversation every time I see the person.

      That is an example of oversharing.

      1. JSPA*

        Hmmm. I hear you, that it’s stuck with you. I’m just not sure why.

        1. If it had been a guy after running a marathon, would you have the same reaction / 10 year memory? (If not, why not?)

        2. If you know female people who have procreated, rest assured that you can correctly think of just about all of them as “the one who had tender nipples.” This is “breast as feeding port,” not “breast as sexy thing.” It’s no more automatically inappropriate than talking about blisters after a hike (which is to say, it could uck someone out, but that’s hardly a given).

        Sounds like when they caught your expression, and realized that the mechanics infant nutrition were somehow memorable to you, they stopped the conversation–that is, they were entirely polite about it.

      2. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

        Twelve years ago, I had a coworker who told a group of teammates that her nipple piercings are setting off the metal detectors at the airport. They told everyone else and this is the only thing I remember about this woman twelve years later. Really wish I could forget!

    5. Eeyore's missing tail*

      Sleep deprivation can be pretty rough. And sometimes when you’re stressed (which if her child is 8 and still wetting the bed, I can totally see), you just don’t think clearly about what’s appropriate and what isn’t.

      I know I put my parents through that back when I was kid. I was wetting the bed until I was 10 or 11. Thankfully someone told my parents about their child having the same issue and it was due to some weird hormone deficiency. They put my on a nose spray and *poof*, I never wet the bed again. I think I used the spray for a few months.

      1. Anon so my child doesn't flat me alive*

        Asking name of condition or hormone please so I can go to Google.

        1. Also anon because he's a teenager now.*

          Google nasal spray for bed wetting. In my country you need a prescription from your family doctor and must have tried alarms first and be over school age. We used the spray for my son when aged 8 who had previously wet the bed nightly, sometimes twice. Alarms were ineffective (didn’t wake him). We only used the spray for one week and he hasn’t wet again a single time.

          I think people underestimate the impact on the family and child. My doctor was hesitant to prescribe. I pointed out 2 loads of laundry a day, broken sleep, no sleepovers or babysitters and a growing impact on child’s self esteem. It isn’t the end of the world but it is wearing.

    6. Unregretful Black Sheep*

      At our last town hall (~500 employees), our SVP told a story that included the tidbit about his teenaged daughter “becoming a woman recently”. I was mortified on her behalf.

      1. Seeking Second Childhood*

        Oh hell no. Imagine if that girl gets an internship and finds out as an adult…

      2. Marion Ravenwood*

        Oh God, that reminds me of the time my dad got drunk when his football team won the cup final, and announced to a pub full of strangers that I was their ‘little surprise’. I was 13 at the time and just remember wanting a hole in the ground to open up beneath me…

      3. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

        *GASP* Aren’t senior-level managers supposed to have superior people skills or something?

    7. No one you know*

      Some parents seem to forget that their child is a whole separate human who has a right to privacy. If it isn’t something your kid would tell that person maybe don’t drop their struggles in your casual conversation?

    8. frostipaws*

      My coworker has kids who are in junior high. They’ve been having to go to counseling for years when their parents divorced and she talks about what the therapist says quite often. I feel for those kids.

      When I was in my twenties and still living at home, my mother used to talk about my horse with her coworkers. Several times she’d come home saying how she hated to ask me this, but one of her coworkers wanted to ride my horse. Fool that I was, I never said no. Five different people came out to ride him.

      My father also expected me to housesit for him when he and his wife went to his condo. This was quite an inconvenience, since he lived in another town, and I had to get up, get ready for work, go to the stable to feed my horse, and get to work, all before 7AM. I told my mother how I did not want to do this for him, and how I did not have time, yet felt he’d take back the car he’d bought for me if I refused. Apparently she went to work and blabbed about it. She came home and said her boss wanted me to housesit for him and his wife when they went on vacation. Of course I did it!

      1. Zweisatz*

        *How was that her take-away from you saying you don’t want to housesit for your father??* Wow.

    9. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      I do have a story of my own, but I swear it was an accident! (and, at least, not with my coworkers) At a parent-teacher conference for my oldest, who was then 12 or 13, a teacher was ragging on him as usual (he did not do well in school in 7th grade). I wanted to say that he was going through a lot of adolescent issues which made it even more difficult for him to handle school, but what came out of my English-is-a-second-language mouth was “you’ve got to understand he’s going through puberty”. The horrified look on that young, female teacher’s face will stay with me for the rest of my life.

      1. SusanIvanova*

        Maybe it was a wakeup call! Anyone teaching kids at that age ought to be aware of what hormones are doing to their mental processes.

  12. Taryn*

    One of my employees was hired in with a bad kidney, going to dialysis 3 times a week. It was such a huge part of their lives, they definitely shared this with coworkers, both in a more serious manner, as well as a pretty constant joke. And when they went out on leave to get a new kidney? You better believe we were all ecstatic for them. I can’t imagine a workplace where health issues aren’t discussed at all.

    1. Amber T*

      I think normalizing health issues is the right way to go, because it’s so easy to be ignorant of chronic issues. So if the “right” thing to do is not talk about it, then it’s even easier to ignore and brush aside.

      1. A New Level of Anon*

        I agree with you on normalizing health issues. There’s a way of doing it that isn’t offputting, and then there’s another way that can be perceived as self-involved and attention-seeking. It’s difficult to strike that balance.

      2. JSPA*

        I’ve gotten so much good information from coworkers who were working on fixing / stabilizing / managing health issues! As opposed to vague griping (which is a downer with no redeeming features so far as I can see). Information-sharing about sickness is healthy.

  13. High Score!*

    The dudes in our office were definitely guilty of TMI when it was time for their year 50 colonoscopy. They went around the office drinking their cleansing shakes, eating jello and saying things like “whew! You guys wanna avoid the bathroom for a few hours! Har har har” ewww. I hid in the women’s room when they started bonding over the procedure so I didn’t have to hear them graphically discuss it.

      1. Deryn*

        I have an autoimmune digestive condition which means that I have been getting yearly (or sometimes more frequent) colonoscopies since the age of 10, and I cannot fathom how someone would operate in an office or work environment while doing the prep. Not only is it unpleasant in general, but the frequency, urgency, and duration of time you’d need to be in the restroom is really prohibitive to being productive.

        Take away: if you are someone who is considering going into work on the prep day for your scope – DON’T. If you’ve been scheduled to start drinking the crud later in the day, get home before then. Wear your jammies, have nice toilet paper on hand. Don’t make it worse on yourself.

        1. High Score!*

          If it happens again, I’m going to screenshot & print your wise words and post them on the men’s bathroom door. Seeing grown men running for the loo while giggling and later talking about the experience was horrifying.

        2. iglwif*

          EXACTLY. I used to work with someone who had IBD and you can bet she was not in the office on colonoscopy prep days.

        3. periwinkle*

          Better yet, buy one of those bidet seats. I worked from home on prep day – sweats, bidet, nice heated bathroom, books if I thought a diversion was necessary… it was actually a rather nice day in the end. Er, no pun intended.

        4. RegBarclay*

          How did they even drive home? I have a 20 minute commute and I wouldn’t risk it! I have to get the test every 3 years and while sometimes I work on prep days I definitely leave early, well before I start taking anything.

          Also highly recommend keeping trashy magazines on hand for prep, the sort of magazines you’d never usually buy but that you secretly find highly entertaining.

        5. Archaeopteryx*

          I used to work in GI, and had to explain to people that they shouldn’t go in to work while drinking the prep. I had to talk one patient out of trying to combine prepping with a symphony performance! I think I saved everyone some trouble there ;p

    1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      Those must be the bro-est bros that ever broed! I have never… My friends and family members have each taken a day off and maybe mentioned it in passing to closest friends. My coworkers, I have no idea, because none of them have ever talked about it in the office! That’s a whole new level!

      1. High Score!*

        I was stunned into hiding and I’m not a hiding type. Just ew. And they’re not close outside work or anything. It was comparable to women talking about giving birth to a pregnant woman only more gross.

      2. Deryn*

        I’ve actually mentioned mine to my supervisor before, but definitely not with that level of detail! For context, she knows in general about my digestive condition and that I have to occasionally be out for medical appointments and tests. I also want to qualify this with the fact that I am pretty open about my diagnosis (when it comes up, not that I talk about it incessantly) and know my supervisor isn’t going to hold it against me or pry further than I’m comfortable. Here’s all the further detail it warranted:

        Me: I’ll be out that day for some medical tests, but I’ll make sure everything’s taken care of before I leave.
        Supervisor: Sounds good, hope it’s nothing serious!
        Me: Nah, just a routine scope.
        Supervisor: Is that one of the ones where you have to drink stuff to uhhh…. you know…
        Me: Yeah, pretty yucky, but it is what it is.
        Supervisor: Ah, darn, sorry you have to do that. Hope everything goes okay with it!
        Me: Thanks! Anyway, here’s those approvals you needed.

        Aaaannd scene. Anyway, all that to say I don’t think it’s terrible to mention that it’s happening – it’s nothing shameful, or it shouldn’t be – as long as you’re comfortable with someone knowing, but you don’t need to get into all the gross details any more than you would need to detail them if you got the stomach flu.

      3. Kyrielle*

        Yeah. I took time off for that. Someone actually asked me how the prep was (! ew !) and I don’t know where I found the composure, but I answered back with just, “About as described, unfortunately.”

    2. Wednesday's Child*

      Who the heck doesn’t take the day off for colonoscopy prep?!?! The day before is worse than the actual procedure!

    3. pinky*

      I had a male boss in his 50s who had to go have some kind of test of his prostate. He complained in detail to all the younger men in the office about it beforehand (I pretended not to hear), so then of course the day he was out, my colleagues explained to everyone who came looking for him “no, he’s off having a tube put down his dick”.

      So of course the next day, everyone who had been looking for him the day before came to see how he was and ask him why he hadn’t ridden his bicycle that day…

  14. Diana Barry*

    I agree 100% about the alternative health bit, strictly based on experience with a particular coworker. A great, friendly lady, but when we do have lunch together I have to avoid talking even about having a headache or having gotten through a bad cold. She ALWAYS serves up advice on some supposedly miraculous herb or a tea that I could drink to prevent it or whatever and when I try to shift topics, she makes it awkward and difficult..and THEN progresses to explaining what her latest overpriced (they’re always wildly expensive services, with dubious names) pseudo-shaman recommended. Talking about taking a Tylenol is a no-no. I’m not discounting the benefits of natural remedies, but hate having it forced down my throat.
    Thankfully lunches have been more rare because we changed roles and work in very different departments & building locations.

    1. Kathleen_A*

      I don’t work with anybody like this (so far, anyway), but I married into a family with two of ’em, and…well, fortunately neither my MIL nor SIL work any more, because if they did, they would absoLUTEly proselytize on the miracles of “herbs” (put in quotes because despite numerous lectures from them, I am still not entirely sure what is considered an herb – is it any ol’ plant or just some of them?) and essential oils to a truly obnoxious degree. Even their fellow true believers would get bored because everybody does.

    2. Working Mom Having It All*

      I worked in a yoga studio for a while and learned very quickly never to bring up anything health or even physical comfort related because you would be met with a litany of weird woo woo stuff that would be impossible to change the subject from.

      On the other hand, after awhile, if I found myself in one of these conversations, I’d just openly be like “yeah I take tylenol, what of it” and people learned to stop engaging with me about this. So it is possible to just soldier through.

      1. Diana Barry*

        Will note that strategy for future interactions..”woo woo stuff” is such an appropriate descriptor.

    3. Vicky Austin*

      My supervisor in my old job used to go on about alternative health and would give us all products associated with the strand of alternative health that she practices. I felt it was inappropriate and talked to HR.

    4. Queen of the File*

      Yeah… I worked with someone who once started talking about alternatives to vaccination and I had to stop her mid-sentence. There are some things that people have such strong feelings about that even polite disagreement can ruin a working relationship.

      1. Diana Barry*

        Ooh yesss….we had another, now former coworker, turn anti-vaxxer after his child was born. eople in his dept would get into arguments with him because he’d lecture them on his new-found belief and they pushed back. Smartest move is what you did, stop the individual mid-sentence.

    5. Lissa*

      I only want to hear about alternative health methods for people who are themselves in 100% perfect health, cause if they still get sick obviously it’s not working! but these are always people who move from one “thing” to the next. call me when you find the perfect one.

    6. Ms Mac*

      And please don’t talk about alternative therapies to someone with a life-threatening illness!
      My boyfriend had stage 3 cancer and I had 4 co-workers each sending me links to magical teas, retreats in Mexico and one even gave my phone number and address to her reiki healer for a home visit!
      I know in their minds they meant well, but it came across as “he’s clearly not trying hard enough to not-die”

      1. Random Commenter*

        +1. Don’t give unsolicited medical advice to people with cancer. At the workplace or anywhere else.

        I dumped my therapist (!!!) Because she insisted that I needed to eat more almonds and cashews for when I had lymphoma.

        Oh and if someone is on medical leave don’t pester their work friends! My friend from work had this happen a lot, most notably when the wife of my former supervisor told her that I need “to slow down”, suggesting I brought it on myself for working too hard.

        1. Liza*

          I’m so sorry you had to deal with that! Unsolicited dietary advice for serious medical issues is a real bugbear of mine!

          My elderly father hires a cleaner who is a lovely lady but loves to push whatever dietary advice she read in the paper onto my ailing parents. This has included everything from garlic and ginger for the common cold, through turmeric for arthritis, all the way to “bananas are good for memory!” in response to my mother’s Alzheimer’s disease progressing to advanced stages.

          She was very well meaning but didn’t seem to appreciate that some of her distinctly anti-medicine advice might come across as insensitive to someone trying to coordinate end-of-life care for a close family member with a terminal health condition.

      2. Random Commenter*


        Of all people, I had to dump my THERAPIST when I got lymphoma* because she kept pushing that I had to eat almonds and cashews.

        Also don’t pester friends and family of the sick person either. Just refrain from unsolicited medical advice in general to anyone.

        *I’m ok now.

    7. Owner of cute hats*

      I had melanoma a few years ago. I am now a connoisseur of sunscreen and hats. I have had two coworkers try to explain to me that sunscreen is toxic and I shouldn’t use it because it will give me cancer. I do not have a snappy comeback for these people, mostly because I’m still flabbergasted that people try to shame actual cancer survivors into not following their doctors’ instructions.

    8. JOA*

      I had a coworker who could turn any conversation into a health sermon. Young people don’t like to accumulate possessions like older generations? Using the silverware we haven’t touched since getting it from my dearly departed MIL is sooo good for our health. Another coworker brought in apricot jam him mother made from her tree? They eat apricot kernels in Turkey and it’s sooo good for your health.

  15. Not So NewReader*

    Put me down as one who has to have some non-work conversation going on. I have mentioned this example before but it still makes me shake my head. My employee lost her spouse. She said I was the only one in the place who offered condolences. We worked with 100 people.

    I have worked a few places where there were running jokes/commentary that if one of us died, management would not even notice. Oddly, in this place no one joked about that.

    1. Former Retail Manager*

      Oh my goodness! That is so terrible for your co-worker. I enjoy the non-work conversation as well and getting to know my co-workers on a very polite, surface level. I enjoy hearing about your cute pet stories, holiday gatherings, vacations, new car purchase, hobbies, etc. It breaks the monotony of a sometimes boring, sometimes very stressful job. I cannot imagine working someplace where my co-workers could literally give 2 s**** if I live or die and can’t even be bothered to make a minimal effort to get to know their co-workers.

    1. Detective Amy Santiago*

      The weather? Sports?

      Though, tbf, in my city, a sports argument could have the potential to be more violent than a political one.

        1. anon today and tomorrow*

          Really? I live in Boston and aside from commenting about the parade goers yesterday (I work downtown so we’re on the parade route), I rarely hear anything about sports.

      1. Archie Goodwin*

        I like to tell people sometimes: You think political discussion is bad? Check out some of the web forums out there related to opera. I think I’ve seen blood shed in both camps of the Callas-Tebaldi debate.

        1. Detective Amy Santiago*

          I’ve heard tell that knitting forums can also be a treasure trove of ridiculous wank and drama.

          So, really, I guess no subject is safe depending on the participants.

          1. RandomusernamebecauseIwasboredwiththelastone*

            So much so on a very popular knitting forum there is a group that exists solely to poke fun at the drama.

            But yes, to your point. Knitters aren’t necessarily nice. (We of course blame the crocheters for the shenanigans /s)

            Really any topic can go south depending on the people involved in the discussion. I’ve live by the credo… keep it light, superficial, and brief no matter what you are discussing at work.

        1. Detective Amy Santiago*

          I guarantee more people here watch the Steelers game on Sunday than go to church.

      2. Rebecca in Dallas*

        I feel like my office has a lot of talk about the weather and what day of the week it is. “Happy Monday! Mondays come too fast, don’t they?” “Is it only Tuesday? I keep thinking it’s Wednesday!” “Hump Day!” “Friday eve! One more day!” “Finally Friday! Not a day too soon!”

      3. Anon Accountant*

        Pittsburgh area too. A sports argument could easily come to punches being thrown. Certainly more likely to be thrown over sports than politics!

    2. Alldogsarepuppies*

      I feel like the comment section here often veers to co-workers can never be friends and you should never talk about anything than exact assignments – which to me is immpractical. I spend more time with coworkers than anyone else (besides my pets) – so I want to have more that “warm but distant” relationship and actually be able to talk people. Am I off base that the rule should be more “Read the room” about most topics and times to talk and not an out right “never disucss anything “

      1. ThursdaysGeek*

        20+ years ago, when I left my first professional job, I wanted to keep in touch. So I’ve met with some of those co-workers about once a month since then. Yesterday was a bit bittersweet, as it was the birthday of the first of our group to die.

        His brother told us the news, back in July, which included the following: “1 thing he always spoke of was his fellow employees he started meeting down in (our town) back in 1986. He was so proud that the group that would meet for breakfast(or coffee) was still meeting today.”

        1. Jean (just Jean)*

          I am sorry for your loss. 32 years of meeting is a nice legacy from your former coworker.

  16. Justin*

    I really think it depends on the office and the people. But the number one thing is to respect boundaries, to tread lightly before one is sure of each person’s boundaries, and not to push.

    And if two people become closer friends, to.. be closer friends outside of where others are listening if they want to go much more personal.

  17. Yay commenting on AAM!*

    Re: sex at work

    I worked at a job where you wouldn’t expect people to need to discuss sex at work. However, occasionally we had an issue with sexually inappropriate customer behavior (indecent exposure, public masturbation, general creepy behavior towards employees, etc.) We thought we had a handle on it, until one day we had an incident occur where an employee reported a customer’s inappropriate behavior using euphemisms, to be “work appropriate,” and ended up not at all clearly communicating the severity of the incident, so management did not think there’d been an issue at all, felt no need to trespass the person in question, and thought she was being difficult. They promptly banned him when they found out what he’d actually done.

    After this, I started adding a little section about sexual harassment to our monthly staff meetings, ex: you might encounter someone behaving sexually inappropriately, you should report it using proper medical terms to describe what you saw, it is appropriate to do so and you should not be worried about using these terms at work, if you are in a situation where you feel uncomfortable, this is how you should proceed.

    The floodgates opened as people who were previously afraid to “talk about sex at work” or “make the customer unhappy” started sharing stories about obscene callers, flashers, peeping toms in restrooms, leering, verbal sexual harassment, and unwanted touch (hugging people who did not want to be hugged, sneaking up on someone and giving them a massage.) It turned out, we’d had a *huge* issue with this behavior and hadn’t realized it because everyone was too uncomfortable to discuss sex topics! We put in clear protocols for employees working alone to get backup, and clear protocols for reporting, which helped immensely.

    So even if you think your job description has nothing to do with talking about sex, it might still require it on occasion, and it’s perfectly OK and professional to do so in those situations.

      1. Yay commenting on AAM!*

        This workplace was a community fitness center, affiliated with a homeless shelter, a drug rehabilitation sober house, and a prison halfway house, as well as the general public. We also had a separate issue with men having sex in the men’s locker room/unsuspecting people walking in and catching them in the act.

        To top it off, we had a large afterschool and summer camp program in that facility, and a lot of our staff were college kids who were vulnerable to not knowing how to handle the situations and were afraid of getting fired if they did something wrong.

        It was a tinderbox for sure.

        1. Pet All The Dogs*

          That sounds about right. Your original description has many similarities to my former workplace, a reputable public library system in a major US city. Most that got public facing jobs there did not realize that it would entail dealing with patrons viewing porn and public masturbation and had no idea how to deal with it. I was an engineer in the IT department so I actually had stats on how often people tried to look at that stuff (unfortunately content filters are not perfect). It’s astounding what people will do in public spaces with access to free Wi-Fi.

    1. Vicky Austin*

      See, to me, that’s different; because reporting sexual harassment and inappropriate sexual activity by customers is part of the job. The “don’t talk about sex at work” rule only applies to not talking about employee’s own sex lives.

  18. Mike C.*

    I think another important example of appropriate political discussions at work happen when those politics directly affect your office. If you’re company does business internationally then tariffs are going to be a concern, and there was a great deal of discussion about overtime rules last year.

    I know some are going to say, “well, that’s different from talking politics“, but I’ve ran into enough people who lump the two together that I think it’s an important distinction to make.

    1. Lawgurl06*

      Yes! This! I got talked about behind my back by some coworkers for mentioning that the Trump immigration policies are likely to blame for some of our budget shortfall. (We work in language services, specificially providing language education for individuals who have relocated to the US). Well, when visas are hard to get, companies aren’t sending new people here. I didn’t think this was a political comment, but apparently it was taken that way. I simply thought I was stating a fact that explains the struggle we are feeling right now and something for us to keep in mind for the future.

    2. Tupac Coachella*

      I’d agree. I worked in a government office during a time when some big changes were happening in legislation directly related to our work, and it was a topic that clients and employees both felt strongly about. It was useful to talk about it beyond what was absolutely necessary to prevent us from falling into the “my worldview is the only way this might be perceived” trap (it was a topic most people don’t give much thought to until it impacts them directly).

    3. President Porpoise*

      Truth. As someone who is directly impacted by tariffs, and has to have conversations about how we feel about specific tariffs and how to ask our lobbyists to respond – there is a right way and a wrong way to express political frustrations at work. It’s certainly ok to express satisfaction or dissatisfaction with policies in a professional way, it’s way less ok to openly discuss second amendment “solutions”, in the manner of one of my coworkers.

  19. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

    Was this in relation to watercooler chats or any conversation with anyone at work? Because I can see myself having some of those with close work friends. Even talking about sex should in theory be okay if you are having sex with this particular coworker you’re talking to (a rare event, but as this site has proven many times, these things happen).

    1. Seeking Second Childhood*

      Just please please check the acoustics. I work near the restrooms and once kept a shy coworker from hyperventilating by opening the men’s room door a crack and calling in “you are clearly audible at our desks.”
      No more bedroom comparison conversation in THAT bathroom since.

      1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

        I did application support at OldJob, and was once assigned a ticket to upgrade the software on all PCs in our training room. Somehow I assumed it was empty, and most of it I guess was, because I upgraded most of the machines with no issues, then I get to the last one and there’s someone’s Lotus Notes up on the screen, open to an email to or from a coworker, describing in detail every sexual thing they have done or would do to them next time they meet! I disconnected from that machine as fast as I could and never spoke of it again, kidding, I spoke of it to all my friends in the office, I just didn’t name names. So please please don’t have those chats on work email while using a public computer, either!

  20. H.C.*

    One more thing I’d add is any MLM stuff, especially if someone’s trying to rope in their colleagues to be their “downstreams”.

    1. H.C.*

      my only caveat to MLMs being a no no is if the seller is doing in a super low-key & no pressure way. It’s pretty rare, but I’ve seen it happen in a workplace (colleague just casually noted she’s an Avon rep, and people can place orders with her if they are interested in something from their catalog.)

        1. RandomusernamebecauseIwasboredwiththelastone*

          Really? Honestly curious. I’ve seen a lot of catalogs sitting on desks in my day. Not a word mentioned unless I brought it up first. “Oh are you a rep for TurtlesRUs?” “Yep… let me know if you ever want a catalog or to order something” and then it’s never been mentioned again.

          I see nothing inappropriate with that exchange.

      1. Working Mom Having It All*

        I think any talk of MLMs in the workplace is worse than politics, religion, and icky personal life stuff combined. I’m not sure how I feel about, like, making it privately known to a few people you already know to be into this sort of thing that they can come to you for all their lularoe needs. But even then I just feel like this is way more delicate than, say, two democrats talking about who they like for mayor, or two Wiccans wishing each other a blessed Samhain.

      2. CBE*

        MLMs are *NEVER* “low key” or “no pressure” by design.
        People who think they are “low key and no pressure” about it are delusional.
        MLM talk should be 100% banned.

        1. Stardust*

          Oh I think you can find a low key sales rep. It’s rare but they do exist. “Always” and “never” are such strong words and there are exceptions usually in most times.

        1. starsaphire*

          I deeply believe that I would croak if I didn’t get my annual fix of Do-si-dos.

          Ergo, that’s religious, because it encompasses belief and death. ;)

      1. Rebecca in Dallas*

        Yes, I get very upset if I find out someone has a Girl Scout and didn’t inform me so I can order!

  21. Oxford Comma*

    I have worked with some people who would react with horror to general questions like, “how was your weekend?” I have never ever understood that. All you have to say was “Great, thanks.”

    Religion, I think varies. I’m okay with very generic discussion. I never ever want to have someone trying to proselytize me.

    Politics, I used to try to veer away from. Sometimes it’s pertinent to our work here. Two years ago, I would have said unless it relates to work concerns, just keep it very general. These days, it seems very very different and we’re having way more discussions.

    You want to tell me in general about your health situation, I’m okay with that. But I don’t need to know about the consistency of your menstrual flow. I don’t need to know about how much pus they drained from a sore. I don’t need to hear the specific details of the surgical procedure you’re about to undergo. I don’t need the details.

    You want to tell me about the great person you’re dating, that’s fantastic. I’m happy to hear things are going well. I do not want to hear about how it’s going for you sexually. Also, I really don’t need to hear in excruciating detail how his ex is ruining everything for you. There’s one coworker who despite me begging her not to, has told me so much about her ex’s child support situation, that I think I’m better informed than the lawyer.

    And when I start to wince or try to back away, or actually say, “I’d rather not hear about that, thanks,” I prefer you to oblige by it.

    1. Former Retail Manager*

      YES….to your first sentence. I have only managed to get info out of a couple of these folks over the years and it turned out that one had been burned in the past by being accused of talking too much, in lieu of being productive, so she went the total opposite extreme. The other just said that she felt friendly conversation didn’t have a place in the workplace.

      In general, I think most people are looking for a “great, thanks” in response to the weekend question, or maybe a quick blurb about what you did. Watched a Netflix show, took the dog to the dogpark, tried a new restaurant. It’s really not that serious.

    2. Bulbasaur*

      Regarding the first sentence, that doesn’t happen to me very often but it’s always funny when it does. Guarded mutter of “Good” coupled with a seriously alarmed look, as though I’d just asked to compare penis sizes or something.

      1. Oxford Comma*

        HA! I actually lead a very dull life. My weekends are spent doing chores, watching movies, and defending the use of the Oxford comma.

    3. Queen of the File*

      I admit I am occasionally the coworker from your first sentence. I try to be normal but sometimes my weekend was a disaster due to personal/health issues and it takes me a minute to find the polite lie, to avoid talking about all the other stuff we’re not supposed to talk about at work… “uhhhhhhhhhh oh right…. good, thanks.” I’m sure “horror” could be an apt description of my face for that half a second.

      Not to say people shouldn’t ask, but you know. I’m not being rude on purpose :)

    4. Someone Else*

      The occasional exception to this is: if a major tragedy happened over the weekend, the Monday after that weekend (such as four days ago) asking how people’s weekend was is probably best avoided in general.

  22. Wish I was kidding*

    So co-worker asking me “Are you a Christian?” within a week of my hiring?

    and the constant stream of prayers & prayer talk on speakerphone?

    and the names of Jewish constituents on an Xmas tree?

    Sometimes I think it’s just me.

    1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      Oh lord.

      I was only ever asked that by a new neighbor soon after I bought my house. No matter if you lie and say yes, or truthfully say no, you’re screwed, and I wanted to keep a good relationship with that neighbor!

      I came up with “we used to go to a Greek church”.

      Super not work-appropriate, though.

  23. Amber T*

    I’ve mentioned in passing at work that I’m not really religious/pretty agnostic. One of my coworkers had been pretty religious but went through Stuff, and came out the other end questioning his faith. Which is fine! But also very not my place… but it still led to a really awkward “discussion” (one sided) of him telling me about said Stuff and how he is now also agnostic and “firmly agrees” with me… it was awkward and weird and all happening in my office that I couldn’t escape (and while I’m usually good at shutting stuff like this down, the Stuff was really sensitive and I really had no idea how to interrupt).

    And while I’m fortunate enough that most of my coworkers agree with me politically… it’s still not something I want to discuss every damn day all the time.

    My point is, even if your coworker “agrees” with you or is on “your side,” it can still be exhausting and not welcome.

    1. sfigato*

      Yeah. I don’t talk about my religious beliefs with ANYONE, because I don’t think that my personal perception of how the universe works is anyone’s business or really that relevant. What do I know? I mean, I’ll talk about what faith I follow, but detailed examinations of faith? Nope. Most of my friends are some brand of christian, and none of them share the same beliefs, and many of them are in total conflict, theologically.

      And while I am all for being part of the resistance, I could do without talking about how much the Trump administration sucks every minute of the day. At a certain point it just becomes picking at an open wound.

  24. Aurora Leigh*

    Someone tell my coworkers not tobtalk about sex in the office!!

    We have morning (mandatory) stretch break where the 8 people in our dept all do stretches and make small talk.

    One day, this somehow turned into everyone (except me and one other coworker) sharing the details of their sex lives with their husbands (mostly just how often).

    My boss especially keeps bringing it up — she hasn’t had sex in 2 years, she doesn’t lile sex, her husband better get a vasectomy he ever wants to have sex with her again (they have 2 high school aged kids).

    Things I never wanted to know about my boss!

    1. Roja*

      Oh man, the intimate details of my boss’s sex life is basically number 1 on my “do not ever want to know” list! Yiiiiiiikes.

    2. EvilQueenRegina*

      Someone once asked who had read 50 Shades Of Grey. Cue a comment from my one coworker about how she’d heard it was boring old rubbish and one day she’d suggested to her then-partner that they get the handcuffs out and he refused. By the end of that conversation I was 50 Shades Of Green with nausea.

  25. Linus*

    There are three things I have learned never to discuss with people. . .Religion, politics, and The Great Pumpkin.

  26. FCJ*

    I work in a place where it is 100% normal for job applicants to tell you about their personal spiritual journeys during interviews for nonreligious jobs, as a response to the question, “Why do you want to work here?” We talk about religion and politics (together and separately) ALL THE TIME.

    BUT we are also a seminary. So this is very much, like people are saying, a “know your audience” kind of thing. And know when you’re audience isn’t the norm. No one in any other job is going to understand or appreciate our off-color jokes about John Wesley.

      1. Alex the Alchemist*

        This joke is proof that you are truly doing all the good you can, in all the ways you can…

        (Yes I know this is an often misattributed quote but still relevant)

    1. Vicky Austin*

      Well, yes, if you’re a seminary or other religious organization, ALL of your work talk is going to be about religion. Same thing if you work for your state legislature: all of your work talk is going to be politics.

  27. epi*

    So much of this goes out the window in public health.

    I do health policy research, so all kinds of contentious political issues are on the table. It’s research, so the assumption is often that you cautiously support the policy you are evaluating, depending on the strength of the prior evidence that it improves health outcomes, and the results of your own work. If a controversial policy “works”, whatever that means in context, you’re in favor of it. You have a problem with politicians or political parties that damage public health infrastructure, etc. If you didn’t, you would have really strange values for our field. Depending on the issue, it might even suggest that you don’t understand the evidence.

    Also, we will talk about anything (usually, but not always, without referencing ourselves). I once took a class on meta-analysis where 1/3 of the lectures were about rectal surgery techniques, with pictures and detailed descriptions. Sexual practices and health, illicit drug use, mental health, suicide. Plenty of people do work with populations of which they are a member, or on issues that it could be inferred affect them.

    Once I had a statistician classmate comment on how open we all are to talk about any topic most people would find embarrassing. He said he tells his shyer classmates to do their public health coursework early, to help them get over it.

    1. nonprofit writer*

      Totally agree! I worked at an HIV org for many years and got really used to talking about sensitive topics with zero embarrassment. (There were a lot of raunchy jokes floating around too, I must say, which I personally enjoyed but perhaps others did not). I sort of took it for granted until recently when I was trained as a volunteer sexuality educator for teens. Part of the training involved practicing how we’d answer explicit questions from students (including slang, vulgarity, efforts to shock us, etc). Everyone there was enthusiastic about learning but there were still SO many red faces and such embarrassment as people tried to answer. But for me, I discovered that I am, in fact, unshockable–and able to do this with a straight face. I haven’t had a chance to teach the class yet but I hope I do as well in front of actual teens.

  28. VegetableLasagna*

    I was just complaining to my friends about this, but one of my co-workers has come up to me twice to “talk gender politics”. I’m very aware that I’m in the political minority in my office, and I’m not comfortable having a political debate at work.
    Same coworker has some boundary issues, because she’s talked to me at length about sex toys and tried to get me to interpret her medical charts (I’m not a doctor).

    1. Lissa*

      Aaaah whyyyy would you deliberately go up to try to start a debate with a coworker intentionally??

  29. MissDisplaced*

    I think if these are kept “light” and respectful any are ok to talk about at work with the caveat that they be kept in SMALL doses or else you run the risk of it being TMI. Telling people “I’m active in my church and regularly go on volunteer missions.” is fine. Asking people if they want to be saved or born again or discussing sinful behavior or questioning why they believe what they do… maybe not so much. Sex is probably never good to discuss at work unless you are a doctor or sex worker. I admit though I once worked with a bunch of women and we did sometimes talk about sex and dating. It was very Sex and the City.

    1. Isabel Kunkle*

      Yeah–I remember back when I was working in a flower shop, my co-workers and I were all women in our 20s/30s, and Sundays when it was slow could get pretty interesting. We kept it all in the back room, though, and at a lower volume.

  30. Allison*

    I used to feel comfortable discussing the “high level” details of my love life with coworkers I felt reasonably close with, but in one job it started to feel like some coworkers were *really* interested in the love lives of the younger team members, and it was a lot of oooohing and aaaahing, and sometimes a little shimmy or wink as well, every time someone brought up a significant other, and people would ask where they were in the relationship, and then they HAD to know that person’s timeline for the next steps – when were they gonna move in together? When were they gonna get married?* When were they gonna buy a house? Have babies??? I didn’t want that, the idea of people I didn’t know well trying to live vicariously through me made me kind of uncomfortable, so I was very careful to bring up anything relating to my love life, and avoided saying the word “boyfriend” whenever possible.

    *anytime someone was engaged, people would constantly ask them about wedding details – what does the dress look like? What’s the first dance gonna be? What kind of venue?? What were they gonna serve? Is it was a woman, they’d ask if the fiancee was contributing at all; if it was a guy, they’d ask him if she was “going crazy” yet.

    So it’s fine to be curious and it’s fine to ask, but don’t pry, don’t be super nosy, and pay attention to how the person answers your question. If they’re sharing news that may be exciting in a kind of matter-of-fact way, maybe don’t overflow with giddy excitement on their behalf, and if they do seem really excited, it’s fine to match that enthusiasm. If they’re giving very brief answers, maybe stop doing that ” . . . yeeeaaah??” people do to coax out more information, and instead conclude that this is maybe not their favorite topic of conversation.

  31. Wubba lubba-dub dub*

    I just had to ask a coworker not to tell me about his diet THREE TIMES before he stopped.
    You never know who has an eating disorder, y’all. No diet talk at work, especially not about what you’re “allowed” to eat or how much weight you’ve lost. Numbers in particular can be really triggering. Ugh.

    1. Argh!*

      Same here. I’m one of many, many fat women in my family. There are at least 8 genes and one virus that predispose people to obesity. I don’t want to hear about gluten or fish or broccoli or eggs or any of that. If I want to know how you lost weight, I’ll ask you. I started dieting at age 12 and I can rattle off much more nutritional information off the top of my head than any thin-as-a-rail know-it-all. Nobody gets fat from not having enough busybody coworkers in their lives!

      1. Asenath*

        And no fad diets. Well, to be fair, I was merely asked if I wanted to join in the group that was starting one of the weirdest diets I ever heard of, and they accepted my refusal gratefully.

        It didn’t work and no one stayed on it a week (for which I can’t blame them).

      2. froodle*

        Nobody gets fat from not having enough busybody coworkers in their lives!

        Hilarious and accurate!

    2. Rebecca in Dallas*

      Two of my coworkers are on Weight Watchers and all I hear all day is POINTS POINTS POINTS! It is maddening!

    3. Allison*

      Yes, very much this! I’m trying my best to lose weight, I don’t want help (especially from people who only know a small piece of my diet and/or exercise routine), but sometimes I spiral into a disordered relationship with my body and it’s usually triggered by hearing other people obsess over their own weight, talk about how gross they are and how whatever they’re cutting out of their diet is “soooo bad for you” and no one should be eating it.

      On the other hand, I get that when you are super motivated to diet, talking about it can help you maintain that motivation. Just be careful when and where you say things like “oh my god, I didn’t go to the gym this morning, I’m sooooo fat and gross right now! And I ate chocolate yesterday, I’m like basically obese.”

      1. Argh!*

        As someone who weighs twice what she should, I cringe every time someone who is 10-20 lbs. “overweight” talks that way. I want to smack them and tell them to shut up!

        1. Elfie*

          Yeah, I’m like you, twice the size I should be. I want to sit on them. I had to give up Slimming World when I was in the throes of major depression, because every week that I stepped on the scales felt like a judgement of me as a person, and if I put on weight or didn’t lose weight, I would almost cry in the meeting. It’s so easy to lose all sense of perspective with diets, and I say this as someone who hasn’t suffered from an eating disorder. And please stop the ‘good’ and ‘bad’ food stuff (and therefore you being a ‘good’ or ‘bad’ person – now that’s something I find triggering!)

  32. Not Today Satan*

    In general, I feel like I work in a different planet than is always described as “professional” or appropriate. Every place I’ve worked, people have been TMI, fraternized, talked about politics and religion, I’ve been grilled about when I’ll have a baby, etc. In some ways it’s good, in some ways it’s bad, but it’s certainly different than what I’d expect from reading professional advice.

    1. Roja*

      It’s not just you. My field has fewer boundaries than one’s traditional office job (partly because it’s not an office), and it’s both good and bad, but it’s definitely more personal than many people describe their jobs. I lean on the side of generally good though. It’s (ballet and modern) dance, so it would be kind of odd to be doing partner work day in and day out, getting sweaty together, performing together… with someone you don’t know. You get to be pretty comfortable with each other pretty fast!

  33. Anonow*

    I’ve been dealing with several of these with my boss who is currently going through a breakup (more like a divorce in its complexity). It’s really tough, and I feel bad for him. But it is so uncomfortable and distracting to hear about his weekend 1-night stands (no details, just that they happened); his dating interests; and how selfish and flaky is ex is. It’s doubly weird and annoying to hear him complain about his reduction in quality of life (loss of his second home, for example) to our team members who make less than a third of what he does. Our intern who is working 2 jobs, for example, doesn’t want to hear how you are “devastated” that you won’t see the completion of the hot tub installation at your former vacation house. I’ve never understood how anyone could be that un-self-aware…

  34. Flower*

    The majority of my coworkers having just completed annual Title IX training in the last few days, it’s funny to see “sex” on the list. It’s true, and your personal sex life never ever needs to come into play, but conversations tangential to sex come up with Title IX training.

    Similarly, I work in a field related to sex differences (as in, researching biological differences arising from things like hormones, gonads, etc), so some sex-tangential things come up a fair amount (including contraceptive options), and discussion of breeding lab animals is far from atypical. Just like… not your own sex life, and very rarely human sexual activity. (It does come up sometimes though, especially when you’re doing human research.)

  35. Typhon Worker Bee*

    In my last job, there were lots of lunch room regulars who were really interested in politics and wanted to talk about it, so we came up with some ground rules:

    – non-Canadian politics: anything goes (we mostly talked about US politics, which is kinda like reality TV for us, and Brexit, but we had people there from all over the world and had some really great conversations about things like post-Soviet politics in Eastern Europe, and ongoing changes in Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Iran)
    – Canadian & BC politics: no party political talk, don’t say which party you vote for, but we can talk about issues like immigration, oil pipelines vs. orca conservation etc. in more general terms
    – Municipal politics: anything goes (between us we lived in five or six cities in our metro area, each of which has their own mayor and council, and only Vancouver proper has a party system at that level – the rest of the cities elect individuals with no party affiliation listed).

    Sex talk – only at the pub – although once I came into the office still giggling at the My Dad Wrote a Porno podcast I’d been listening to on the bus to work, and wasn’t quite quick enough to come up with a convincing lie when asked what I was listening to. That was a bit embarrassing.

  36. Alex*

    I think the only caveat I’d add is that money trouble can be put on hold when sharing certain news – a sudden death or illness that is more than people plan for, a natural disaster/act of god destroys your house, etc. – and if it’s only mentioned briefly/once. I recently had to replace my roof due to a hail storm and was a tad stressed about covering the deductible and shared with a few colleagues, and I don’t think it made anyone uncomfortable.

    1. Argh!*

      I’m more uncomfortable with higher-paid people complaining about a delay on their flight to Paris or how much it costs to heat a 6,000 square foot house.

    2. Roja*

      Agreed, and sometimes people are especially concerned and would like to help in those times. I know one of my biggest concerns when finding out someone has a huge health issue is if they’re doing okay financially, because if not, I’d like to chip in if they want that sort of thing. I suspect many people are the same.

  37. Blerghhh*

    You know what’s definitely not workplace conversation? Your boss asking prying personal questions of you on the rare (every year or so) occasion you go to lunch together. I’m talking “When are you two getting engaged?”, or now that I’m married, “How many kids do you want to have?” He is so very tone deaf :(

    1. MissDisplaced*

      As it’s kind of bland, I think some people just take this kind of thing as being small talk.

        1. londonedit*

          I don’t want to become ‘that woman who always wangs on about not wanting children’ on here, but…as a woman who very much doesn’t want to have children, this sort of ‘bland chit-chat’ can definitely be very awkward. I’ve had many conversations in my time that have started off with someone chit-chatting about whether I have kids, or saying something that assumes I’ll be having kids, and then my choice is either to smile and nod and allow them to continue believing it’s something that a) is appropriate to ask and b) every woman wants to do with her life, or to try to find the most benign way I can of saying ‘Oh, that’s not really on my radar’ or ‘Oh, no, I don’t plan on having any children’. Which then inevitably leads to the ‘But why ever not!? You’ll change your mind! Just wait! You just need to meet the right person!’ discussion. Which I’d rather not have with anyone, let alone someone in a work situation.

          1. JOA*

            I finally lost my patience over the reproductive questions in the months after I got married and blurted out that I was not a walking uterus. Years later, someone I had worked with just before I got married asked when I was doing so because I hadn’t yet changed my name. Ugh, unconscious bias!

        2. Parfait*

          It’s definitely a sensitive topic for a lot of people. I will be getting engaged if he ever asks me! Yeah I’m a little salty that it hasn’t happened yet.

  38. More nameless than usual*

    Our chief exec is encouraging everyone to have “respectful enquiry” conversations with each other. Drop into conversation, for example, that you’re in a same-sex relationship/are a carer/check in with a colleague that is of a different race.

    How do we feel about this?

    1. Asenath*

      Appalled! While my closest co-workers know some things about my personal life, they have so far refrained from asking about my sex relationships, and none of the ones who are of a different race have checked in with me about my race. I am glad that it is extremely unlikely that anyone here would suggest that sort of thing as a good idea.

      Co-workers of the same small group sometimes asked how things were going when I was helping my mother in her last years, just as I did the same for a couple of them who were/are in a similar situation. We weren’t doing it because our boss told us too, but because we knew each other well enough to make polite enquiries from time to time. Similarly, people sometimes mention their partners/spouses (if they have them) casually, so some level of knowledge about them can be assumed to be shared among the group. It’s usually fairly superficial. No one seems to feel it necessary to “drop into the conversation” stuff like “Did you know what gender my partner is?” or “By the way, I’m caring for a sick parent/child/spouse”.

    2. anon today and tomorrow*

      I’ve had previous straight coworkers who felt they needed to “check-in” with me, a bisexual women, to make sure I was okay.

      It’s so condescending and just makes it more obvious that I am Other. It kind of implies that because I’m Other, of course I must be feeling left out / different / lesser. It sounds like your chief exec is the type of person who thinks they’re being a good ally because they’re conscious of people having different identities, but the execution is still so tone deaf. The whole point of striving for equality is that you don’t need to make a point of going, “hey anon today is queer, let’s see how they feel today as the only queer in this office!”

      No one wants to be “the gay coworker” anecdote is a hetero person’s story.

      As for dropping a same-sex relationship into a convo, no one should be forced to do this if they don’t want people to know. Straight people often don’t understand that just dropping that info into a conversation isn’t as casual as a straight person mentioning their opposite-sex partner.

    3. Roz*

      Nope. So much nope.
      The underlying message is that those who are “different” want to be able to provide insight /educate “those that aren’t”, and as someone who is literally “different” in almost every way this type of “engagement/inquiry” always comes across as prying and adds another layer of responsibility on me to make the other person comfortable with my response. Now I have to navigate their potential discomfort. Ugh.

      I really wish we could focus on people as whole people rather than their parts. Being seen as only female/queer but hetero-presenting to those not in the know/person of colour is so limiting. Just like it’s so limiting to assume that those who present as “not different” are bland/not interesting enough for this type of attention.

      We are all interesting. We must engage with each other knowing we are all multi-faceted and have something others can learn about/learn from.

  39. Cephie*

    Thank you for your point about respecting your captive audience! Shortly after I started my current job — where I’m the only woman in my department — I was eating lunch in the office kitchen near two coworkers. One of them was quizzing the other, a libertarian/anarchist type, about his political beliefs. So… I had to listen to a coworker say the words “No, I don’t think rape should be illegal.” This is an EXTREMELY uncool thing to make your only female colleague have to sit through!

    1. I heart Paul Buchman.*

      See this is information I would like to have about a co-worker. I would file it in the ‘good to know’ basket. I would be very wary of them going forward.

    2. Former Retail Manager*

      I’d be sooooo tempted to say something along the lines of “would you be okay with a little rape then?”…..maybe followed with a wink, maybe not. What is wrong with people? I know there are people out there who believe stuff like that, but it’s really just astonishing to me. Definitely wouldn’t want to be around Rapey period.

    3. Zweisatz*

      Two of my male coworkers were talking about porn during my first weeks on the job. You bet I still remember that many months later.

      1. Database Developer Dude*

        Most of my coworkers at my most recent gig have been female, and there was still talk about naked coed saunas and pole dancing. *shudder*. Glad I’m not there anymore.

  40. LSP*

    The environment of the workplace really comes into play here. For instance, I work in a small office of about 12 people. There are only 2 men who work here, and they are among the 6 or so people who work in private offices. My desk is in the back of the building in an open floor plan with all women between the ages of 25-45, so we definitely get into a few more personal things than we might do otherwise. There’s one person who crosses lines the rest of us do not, but never to the point where anyone is made uncomfortable.

    For instance, I’m 7.5 months pregnant, and when I came into the office this morning, it was only me and the only other woman here who has kids. We spoke about Braxton-Hicks and labor pains. Nothing graphic, but as other people entered the office, the conversation broke off and we went back to work.

  41. Rabbit and Cow*

    I don’t talk about these topics at work and I don’t gossip or complain about people behind their back (part of it is trying to be professional and part of it is me being a private person)… and, honestly, it has held me back professionally (at least somewhat). It might be because of gender expectations (I notice men have different expectations for conversations), but when all I talk about with coworkers is work related or impersonal small talk, they see me as a bit stand off-ish, and I get left out of lunch runs (where a lot of networking can happen), work gossip (where I am the only one who doesn’t know so and so was fired and am wondering why they aren’t returning emails), and less inspiring references (I am great on the work side but seem to be more forgettable since they have no personal stories to connect with). I am now working on introducing more of my personal life and opinions into work discussions and that is, frankly, improving things.

  42. Greg NY*

    I disagree. I honestly do not see the big deal about discussing sex versus some other very personal issues like health and, for some, money. And I’m not talking about basic health things such as aches or pains they have, I’m talking about more intimate, personal things like bowel habits, urinary tract infections, or being bloated or passing gas. They are either all OK or all not OK (and for many, all are not OK). To me, if it’s OK to discuss health or money, it’s OK to discuss sex. I would tread carefully and know your audience, but I don’t understand the major taboo about sex. Really, I don’t.

    I have found, in general, that people are very open or very private, there isn’t usually much in-between.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      For one thing, there are laws against creating a sexually hostile workplace, and constant talk about sex (depending on the content) could end up violating that. For another, some people use talking about sex as a way to creep on or creep out their coworkers, and people are entitled to work without having to deal with that.

    2. Kate*

      Greg, I want to say this gently and respectfully, but I have noticed there are several social norms that you seem to struggle to understand. I would encourage you to talk to a therapist or some friends about these topics. I don’t know anything about you but I wonder if you might be making people (especially women) uncomfortable IRL with some boundary issues.

    3. CBE*

      You don’t have to understand it in order to respect it. It *is* a subject that makes a lot of people uncomfortable.
      If you don’t get that, it’s on you. If you can’t respect that, doubly on you.

    4. Where’s my coffee?*

      No. Just no. Please spare your local HR person the agony of having to investigate this.

    5. SheLooksFamiliar*

      Greg, this is a surprising and especially concerning stance because you stated in another thread that you’re in the HR field. I would expect someone in HR to understand why certain topics are taboo at work, even if they freely talk about those topics in their personal life.

      If your employer has outside employment counsel, please talk to them about federal and state laws you need to comply with, and the appropriate workplace behaviors you should exhibit. If you don’t have counsel engaged, please find someone. Or at least, check out SHRM.org.

    6. An example of how not to be*

      Here’s an example. Many years ago, I had a boss (maybe a coworker at that point and she became my boss later?) who was a married woman. She shared at one point the type of porn her husband preferred and told me a little bit (more than I wanted to know) about how the porn-viewing fit into her sex life. A little TMI for me for an outside-of-work friendship and I definitely felt it was TMI in the workplace.
      A little while later her husband came to work in my office, and a little while after that, he was my boss. A nice guy and a decent manager, but I could never look him in the eye. That probably affected our work relationship in subtle ways.
      Decades later, she was one of the candidates being interviewed to become the director of the library where I worked. I was so extremely relieved when she wasn’t hired!
      So, yeah, the whole thing was inappropriate.

    7. Greg NY*

      Instead of individual replies, I’ll do this in one fell swoop.

      I am obviously not in tune with everything about sexual harassment. I know what it is, but my understanding is that it’s UNWANTED sexual comments/compliments/propositions. Talking about sex at work, when it’s not a forced or undesired conversation, doesn’t constitute sexual harassment. I would think that ANY undesired conversation is inappropriate in a workplace (or socially in the broader world), but any wanted conversation is perfectly OK no matter the subject (as long as people in the background aren’t made uncomfortable by it and as long as an illegal topic, such as discrimination, isn’t the subject of said conversation). I’m not sure how it can be construed as sexual harassment when it’s not an unwanted conversation.

      I struggle to date, but it’s not because of how I treat women. I have had a number of female friends over the years, and they’ve gravitated toward me since I don’t treat them like pieces of meat. I can be said to be a male feminist of sorts, I want to see true equality. Like with any friendship, ones where personal topics such as sex are discussed need to be built, they don’t come overnight. With any new coworker (or if you are the new one, everybody), you start out with more superficial conversation, but you should be able to move into more personal matters if both people want to. No subject should be automatically off limits, it’s completely dependent on the people involved.

      Sex may be a subject that makes a lot of people uncomfortable. But only the most basic and impersonal of subjects (e.g. the weather) are OK when you don’t know the person and what they’re comfortable and not comfortable with. When you don’t know someone at all, you really should be sticking to the weather. But once you know someone, there shouldn’t be any limits. That’s what I’m saying. I personally tread very carefully and am conservative in what I discuss until I know it’s OK. But anything should be OK once you know the person is on board with it. If some of you disagree with that, I understand. Hope this clears everything up, and I know this was another long comment. But I want to regain my good name and I know I’ve gotten a lot of criticism.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        1. People often assume sexual conversation is welcome when it’s not; loads and loads of women have stories of being subjected to unwanted sexual conversation at work where they didn’t feel comfortable telling the person to stop because they feared professional repercussions.

        2. Even if the two people engaging in the conversation are being participating enthusiastically, no one should have to overhear that, which is pretty likely to happen at some point.

        There’s no reason that you need to talk about sex at work. There are a lot of reasons that you shouldn’t, some legal and some ethical.

        Greg, at this point I’m going to ask you to just sit back and listen for a while because this keeps becoming derailing.

        1. Database Developer Dude*

          I’m a straight male, and I’ve suffered professional repercussions because I didn’t want to hear talk about sex in the office. You’re spot on with this one, Alison.

      2. An example of how not to be*

        I don’t want to pile on but this is why I offered my example. The conversation I had with my same-sex coworker/boss was not sexual harassment and would have been OK in a non work environment. It was a little specific but if a friend I knew well was having a sexual difficulty with her husband, i wouldn’t have minded to the point that it became a problem I recall so vividly. But it backfired on her reputation (in my mind only as I never mentioned this to anyone else) and ultimately his too… even though I’d never met him at the time of the conversation.
        I suppose if a friendship evolves to outside the workplace, you no longer work with your friend and you hang out as personal friends, what you suggest here might be ok. Not at work and never going to be at work is the distinction.

  43. Where’s my coffee?*

    At current job, can discuss most things to a common sense level (as in discussing family plans would be ok, but “family planning” would be weird.)

    At a previous job, almost every topic would trigger someone (Skiing tips and Thanksgiving recipes were two seemingly innocent topics that resulted in uproar.) I kept it to strictly pets and weather, there.

  44. WRK*

    Thank you for mentioning the unwilling audience when these conversations are happening in an open office!

  45. Mommy MD*

    No one should talk about personal stuff or gossip or non work stuff in front of customers/clients/patients. I’ve seen it so many times in so many venues and it’s so unprofessional.

  46. MLM Hater*

    I would add: Multi-Level Marketing.
    No, I don’t want to buy your oils, creams, and leggings that you say makes you a “boss babe.”

    1. Where’s my coffee?*

      My job very specifically prohibits this and I love it. I’m sad about no cookies, but so so happy about no oils and leggings.

      1. Database Developer Dude*

        Cookies? Girl Scout cookies aren’t multi-level marketing. And there’s never any pressure to buy girl scout cookies…there doesn’t need to be. We seek out those of you selling them. In every workplace I’ve ever been in since July 2001, they tried to ban girl scout cookies. As a buyer, I went straight to the person I knew had a girl scout and asked for them. Never got in trouble.

  47. bonkerballs*

    I haven’t read all the comments so apologies if this has already been said. One thing to think about when it comes to not wanting politics talk at work: it can often be a great privilege to be able to divorce yourself from politics. Like, I so often hear people groaning and saying they’re sick of talking about politics, and usually that’s people who are very privileged in whatever way (men, white people, straight people, etc). For people who are minorities, often what others would consider “talking politics” is us simply living our day to day lives. For someone with family in Mexico emigrating to the US, for example, talking about immigration issues isn’t “talking politics.” For someone with family in Puerto Rico, talking about the continued hurricane relief needs is not “talking politics.” For trans men and women, talking about bathroom bills is not “talking politics.” For queer people, having a mini rainbow flag in their pencil cup is not “talking politics.” Just something to remember.

    1. P*

      I think talking about something /that is directly affecting your life and ability to work/ is within bounds. Trying to badger people into doing something / voting some way when it does not directly relate to work is not. At what point things cross over the line from inappropriate, ie “stuff about my life that is affecting me right now” on one (appropriate) end and “I am the ultimate authority on X issue, which will be talked about every conversation without regard to relevance, and if you do not do what I tell you to do you are a bad person and I will retaliate against you” on the other (I hope we can all agree is inappropriate outside of extreme hypotheticals) extreme. At some point things become inappropriate but I suspect that point will vary wildly from person to person. Whether or not it’s worth it to push the bounds of appropriateness, I dunno.

      1. Lissa*

        Yup, I agree with this. For instance, me talking about an ex girlfriend – not political. But even though it directly affects my life, me asking my coworkers their specific views on LGBTQ issues and wanting to pull them into conversations on queer politics is still inappropriate. I think part of the line for me is, do I expect the other person to respond in any meaningful way or am I making small talk? I’m dealing with a slightly related issue right now where one of my coworkers thinks one of my other coworkers “might” have a bad viewpoint, she hasn’t said anything or done anything and it’s based off nothing, but the situation has gotten…Awkward.

        Anyway my point is talking about your life isn’t political but even if it affects me, bringing up specific issues at work might still be not ideal. Though my perspective is really different because I live in a super liberal area of an already liberal country (Canada) so certain things that are regular topics of debate in other countries don’t tend to be where I live.

    2. anon today and tomorrow*

      I disagree. I’m queer and I do get tired of talking politics, but that’s because it’s mostly people talking in a vacuum to other people who agree with them. I don’t need to hear 15 people tell me about X Bad Thing that happened or their opinion on a bill or candidate because it’s exhausting, especially if they’re all saying the same thing. And I certainly don’t need those same 15 people to all ask me about my opinion on bathroom bills or LGBTQA+ issues on the ballot. This is especially true if those 15 people are straight because then it becomes about me teaching them about how certain things affect the LGBTQA+ community, and that’s not my responsibility.

      I can live my life as a queer person without letting my sexuality define me or without thinking about politics every single day. There’s a difference between talking about an issue as it comes up in conversation and derailing any conversation with my input. Sure, I think about how laws relating to the LGBTQA+ community will affect me, but it’d also be inappropriate if I talked about in non-stop at work, and it’s not really the place for me to do that.

  48. This Daydreamer*

    Among my coworkers we’re pretty open about things, even politics, but we’re all liberal women and don’t have the time to get into serious TMI territory.

    But with clients? We learn EVERYTHING about some of them. We limit talk about our own lives but we deliberately don’t place limits on what clients tell us. Politics? Religion? Money? Bowel movements? Weird symptoms? Sexuality? Details of physical and sexual assaults? It’s all in the table. I’m one of the few staffers who haven’t seen a client in her birthday suit (this actually does count as out of bounds).

    Domestic violence shelter, in case you’re worried.

    1. This Daydreamer*

      Of course, the occasional nekkid baby running around while being chased by a harried mother doesn’t get anyone in trouble.

    2. frostipaws*

      We have quite a few employees at my workplace who seem to overshare, yet I think that’s because we work with inmates. We have inmates violently attack one another, have drug overdoses, indecently expose themselves–and worse–so it’s rather dysfunctional by default.

  49. Bunny Girl*

    And oh please, please, please understand when and if your coworkers don’t want to get involved in political discussions, either on or off the clock.

    I’m one of those people that hates talking politics, literally hates it, and it really stresses me out when people try to corner me at work to go on some political rant, even after I’ve said I won’t talk about it.

    Same with social gatherings. I hate when we are just having a chill night and someone has to go on some political shoot off and everyone gets irritated and then it’s a thing.

  50. Ok_Go_West*

    Urgh, alternative medicine. I had a coworker with back problems and another with skin problems and two other coworkers were constantly trying to get them both to do accupuncture. I have no problem with people enjoyin these treatments themselves, but but like with any other advice, harping week after week after week is just obnoxious. My rule for myself is always–you can give any piece of advice to someone exactly one time. If someone like it, they’ll take it then.

  51. AnotherSarah*

    I’ve been reading through these comments and thinking that I’ve only worked in places where people had very average conversations…but then I remembered how at FirstJob my boss told me that she wasn’t feeling well (which was fine, in the context), and that she “hadn’t evacuated [her] bowels in ages.”

    We worked in homecare, so the phrasing was pretty clinical, which was also funny…but it struck me as something I didn’t really need/want to know.

  52. just dropping by*

    At the library where I work, it’s semi-official policy not to discuss political, religious, or sexual topics with library patrons. We’re also not allowed to give law or tax advice. Talking about sports teams is iffy. These are the few areas where it’s permissible to interrupt and redirect a patron instead of just smiling awkwardly and hoping they’ll shut up soon.
    Among ourselves, when no patrons are around–which is rare, we stay busy–we also avoid these topics because we have to see each other all the time and can’t afford any more feuds. (The previous feud was about parenting advice, which is now also an iffy topic.)

  53. Totally Anon Time*

    I’ve been struggling with this as I have a co-worker that I’m very friendly with who has lately been sharing that her husband is questioning their gender identity and getting into some detail about the fall-out from that. I don’t want to be insensitive or unsupportive but colleague outing her husband to her colleagues feels like we’ve veered waaaaay into TMI territory. On the other hand, it would totally make sense if she told us “Btw. Bob is now Roberta using she/her pronouns and we’ll be referring to each other as spouse/partner/wife whatever.” but I can’t quite articulate why one feels more acceptable than the other.

    1. nnn*

      Theory: Husband questioning their gender identity and the fall-out for that is something that’s internal to their relationship (“backstage” in the Goffman sense), whereas a person’s new name and pronouns is public-facing information.

      It’s like the difference between “I’m not sure if I should keep the baby” vs. “This is my daughter”.

    2. restingbutchface*

      Just a guess but you said outing -is it because you don’t know if her husband knows she is discussing this at work? I’d feel gross, almost like I was gossiping. I guess it depends if it’s “guess what my husband said last night about this deeply difficult and personal journey” vs “I feel X”. Only one of those is something she should be discussing.

    3. Totally Anon Time*

      nnn: I think that’s a good way of explaining it. I feel like I’m being pulled much farther into a spousal relationship than I want to be.

      restingbutchface: No, I don’t know whether co-worker has told her husband that she has shared this with us which does makes me feel really uncomfortable. I do know that husband isn’t out to their co-workers. It should be noted, though, that our workplace does work with the LGBTQIA+ community, so it’s a safer thing to share with us than it is for her husband to share with their colleagues (They are, apparently, the type that judge sexuality, orientation and masculinity based on shirt colour. Ugh).

    4. Anon Anon Anon*

      Yeah. I’d be the most uncomfortable with the outing thing. I can see feeling a strong need to talk to people about what she and her spouse are going through, but work isn’t the place for that.

  54. restingbutchface*

    Problem isn’t the topic, it’s the people involved. I’ve had thoughtful conversations with the very religious people I work with and also seen people distressed after talking about paperclips with a certain person. Be kind and thoughtful and you can talk about most things.

    1. restingbutchface*

      I tell a lie. The one off topic conversation for me is my coworkers MLM schemes/hobbies/whatever. NOPE.

      Also when I ran an office with young women I drew a line under diet talk because it was getting toxic.

  55. Random Commenter*

    How does a workplace penalize you for having cancer? And why? Is this a US thing regarding medical leave and coverage?

    I find that comment concerning.

    1. Gatomon*

      You could be fired outright, have your job changed (while you’re out or on return), have your wage changed, have your hours reduced, have your shift changed to something undesirable, get written up for seemingly unrelated offenses and then fired… the list goes on and on.

      Unfortunately some employers are not sufficiently deterred by the law (knowing that many people don’t know the law or don’t have the time/money to pursue legal action). Others are ignorant of the law. And still others are not covered by the law. FMLA, the law that guarantees 12 weeks of unpaid medical/family leave in the US, generally only applies to businesses with 50+ employees.*

      *There may be state-level laws that affect certain areas, and I think there’s more nuance in the criteria, but that’s the gist of it.

  56. ENFP in Texas*

    I actually had to tell a co-worker that I did not want to hear about her getting leg cramps while she was having sex with her husband.

    I still can’t believe I actually had to tell a co-worker that I did not want to hear about her getting leg cramps while she was having sex with her husband.


  57. Anon for this*

    My coworkers and I are similar in age, and once we got to a certain level of comfort with one another, we would discuss more “off topic” things. If I’m not sure, I always lean towards the conservative side. Bc I’m nonwhite, people tend to not hesitate to show their liberal side of politics around me, whereas I tend to not be as sure the other way around. So that part is easy for me.

    1. Maya Elena*

      Very interesting! I generally lean conservative, but settle for gentle disagreements on less controversial issues.

    2. Anon for this*

      OMG I just realized my wording was completely off. I’m liberal politically, but I lean “conservative” in terms of opting for the conservative option out of “should I share more personal things vs. not share personal things.” ACK. I’m really sleep-deprived this week.

  58. Flash Bristow*

    My instinctive answer to this was: abortion, miscarriage, trying to conceive, and “are you pregnant”. Got asked the latter at work and could only reply “no… just fat”. I actually laughed about it but boy that was an awkward silent lift ride from the top, where I entered, to the bottom! It could have really upset someone sensitive, but I own my body shape.

    On that topic, I’ve lost a lot of weight due to illness and now I’m no longer obese but bordering underweight, and again: “oh wow, you’re looking good!” (yeah you mean I’m thinner, I get it…) “You’ve lost so much weight, what’s your secret?!” My secret is vomiting and being really really ill. Thanks guys. So let’s add weight and health to the list.

    Other topics I didn’t really think to include, because either you know someone well enough to know you’ll be able to have a friendly discussion OR you don’t know in which case you’d never consider raising it (I hope) : the classics of religion, politics and money.

    Back to health briefly, I’m very obviously physically disabled and get a lot of “what’s wrong with you?” Now, I have my answers down pat – “oh nothing’s wrong, I’m having a great day thanks!” – or to “what’s your condition?” I enjoy an enthusiastic “oh! Are we swapping medical histories? Great – you first!” but it’s taken me a while to get the confidence to use them, and they might not come off well to a colleague, especially if they’re senior and just awkward. (In which case I just say “oh, it’s a whole body thing. So, tell me about x…” to put us both out of our misery.) But let’s just say that “what’s wrong with you?” belongs in the bin with “are you pregnant?” or worse, “when’s it due?” – it’s one of those things that, no matter how obvious, you Do Not Raise unless explicitly invited to do so by the relevant party.

    But honestly anything can be a trigger that you’re unaware of, so in all cases, be guided by the person you’re talking with; if they seem awkward or uncomfortable, back off a bit to the last “safe” topic. Although if you have a really friendly workplace and you consider them a good friend / confidante, you might later carefully message them to say “you seemed awkward when I mentioned x – I’m sorry if that wasn’t a good topic for you” and then continue with a brief friendly subject change onto known safe grounds, so they can choose whether to reply / explain / thank you / or plausibly ignore.

    Finally, and I think most importantly, if anyone ever pointedly changes the subject, whatever it may be, take the hint! Even if you’re really into the topic. Be consciously aware of this if you need to be. I know I can talk for England, and have a great chat with friends… Then as they leave I think “shit. I never asked how *they* are…” My friends are the kind sort of people who are absolutely fine with this, either introverts who like to listen and help, or they feel free to say “actually Flash, I need to rant for a bit…”, or both. But in the work environment people may be a little bit less able to escape or advocate for themselves, so *whatever* the topic, if they say “um. Nice to see you, must be going!” take the hint and don’t be offended. I think that’s a critical lesson for anyone, frankly!

    Damn, this got long. My apologies (although I suspect it will one day become fodder for a blog post of my own!) but I hope it was helpful.

    1. Anonymous Celebrity*

      I found it to be not only helpful, but very entertaining. You write well, and I really enjoyed your sense of humor!

  59. Kate*

    What about conspiracy theories, if you a believer in them? My father is in a mid-level analytics role at a government job in a location where most employees are 35+ .

    He’s a staunch moon landing denier (born in a country where the denials are common). I’ve sent and presented all the dissuading arguments, with no luck.

    In a conversation about his home country, a coworker mentioned that denying a moon landing is common, and my dad piped in. They went on for some time, with coworkers sending various dissuading articles and him mocking them.

    My mother and I were shocked and told him to never bring it up again, especially since he’s an analyst and has some tensions with a few coworkers.

    At least he had the good sense to not bring up his belief that 9/11 was an inside job…

    1. Maya Elena*

      A telling manifestation that you can be a fully functional member of society while having kooky ideas.

      Moreover, it means that just becauae you are a functioning member of society, or even eminent in your field, doesn’t mean your other ideas aren’t crazy.

  60. Gatomon*

    A plea for no politics, please!

    A new person just joined the team my group shares our cube farm in and we barely made it to lunch before the “where do you stand politically” conversation happened. The new person is on the opposite side of the table from the current vocally political team members and I was already at the end of my rope… at least with the previous team make up the all basically agreed so things didn’t carry on too long. If this goes the way it seems I may have to crack and beg for a regular WFH day.

    What makes it so hard is that other team has a culture of yelling over the cube walls to talk to each other (for everything.) They’re 6 feet tall walls so it’s basically people shouting at each other all day in an otherwise dead silent room. Most of my team spends the day with headphones on at this point just to get work done.

    I can handle the cramped, crappy building, the lack of parking, even the unsafe neighborhood, even the ongoing mouse infestation… but these people and their politics are driving me insane!

    1. Asenath*

      My sympathy. I’m not in the US, and it’s not really common to discuss politics at work here -or, for that matter, in other public spaces – although I notice someone in the other end of the country has a different practice! I learned my lesson at about the age of 12 when I repeated what I heard at home about a prominent local politician in a group of children who had heard the opposite opinion in their homes! I have never been asked my political opinions at work. Even the person who is known to be a very active supporter of a particular party (because he brought a very well-known federal politician to work) never asked anyone’s politics. The politician wasn’t campaigning at the workplace; everyone acted as though he were just another friend accompanying co-worker to office to pick something up before leaving for the day. And even among my friends I’ve been avoiding talking about US politics for a while. Proper workplace conversations about politics? “I’m leaving at (time) to vote.” (Local law allows paid time off to vote if you work more than a certain distance from your polling station). “Do you think the polling station will be busier right after work or a bit later?” “You voted in the advance poll/by mail? Are there special requirements to do that?”

  61. Birch*

    Potentially unpopular opinion: if you are close enough to talk to your colleagues about this kind of stuff–anything that is controversial, TMI if overheard, or a huge bummer, you’re close enough to meet outside of work to talk about it. That’s not to say everyone has to pretend to be super happy all the time, just that there are a lot of topics you may feel comfortable discussing out loud but that may upset people in your hearing distance who didn’t agree to hear all about it. At the very least, take it to the break room and be aware that other people are using that space too when you decide on which topics are appropriate.

    1. Database Developer Dude*

      “I’m having some health issues…I don’t mind talking about them, but let’s do it over a beer after work..could be TMI for the office”.

      “I’m having some relationship issues…don’t mind talking, but it might be TMI for the office, let’s go get lunch”

      ….stuff like that works well.

  62. Emi.*

    An example from personal experience: I do not EVER want to hear about how my coworkers’ children lost their virginity.

    1. Database Developer Dude*

      I am literally sitting here, Emi, with my mouth agape after reading that. I don’t even want to know how your coworker knows her children lost their virginity. If I’m thinking about sex, I don’t even want my mother in the same zip code!

  63. Goya de la Mancha*

    I’m guessing that my explanation of who Ron Jeremey was to a co-worker was probably in the realm of taboo ;)

    Context we were gossiping (yes, we’re horrible people) how a person in our company had been married twice and had managed several affairs – because we do NOT see the attraction to this person, physically or personality wise.

  64. Holly*

    At my workplace, there’s a group of women in my age group, all clustered in one area of the office and we pretty much talk about anything – politics, dating, when we’re sick, etc. but are careful to not veer into anything debate-y or too sexual (that used to not be the case, but we’ve all simultaneously toned it down the longer we’ve worked with each other). I love having that kind of friendship but still professional relationship with my coworkers. That said, it’s definitely a “read the room” thing and we would not have the same conversations with other coworkers who we do not have that kind of relationship with!

  65. Mine's More of a Patio*

    I’m in the office right now and just overheard the word ‘lady-garden’. I realise that’d be a v specific addition to the list, but feel very strongly that it should be on there.

  66. EvilQueenRegina*

    I had one coworker who used to tell everyone everything her partner shouted out in his sleep – apparently he thought the Evil Monkey from Family guy was trapped in the bathroom and he had Ewoks under the bed. Her partner wasn’t happy that that was being shared at work.

    1. Kitty*

      Lol ditto. My coworkers are also very, VERY comfortable discussing health problems, alternative health, and all related topics ad nauseam.

    2. Isabel Kunkle*

      Heh, yeah. I like hearing about my close friends’ kids, but with anyone else, honestly, I’d rather swap explicit stories about inept ex-boyfriends than hear another ten-minute story about Junior’s problems in history class.

      Also, whatever you talk about, just be mindful that you leave enough pauses and pick up on cues. Do not be the person everyone dreads running into in the breakroom because “How was your weekend?” will result in aforementioned ten-minute story with no opening for “Uh-huh, gee. Well, hope that improves!” and a retreat deskward.

  67. GreenDoor*

    I worked in a political environment (a local elected body) so we couldnt’ help but discuss it. Even then, you didn’t bust out with “Senator So and So is such a moron” because in that circle, you can bet it would get back to him and create problems for your own boss/elected official. So knowing where to draw the line is a must.

    Even if you do work in an environment that deals with sex, talking about your own personal sex life, or inquiring about those of your co-workers is so not OK.

    I have kids. But I get that not everyone wants to hear endless kid stories. If people come up to me and ask a quesiton, I’ll happily share. But I don’t volunteer because I don’t want to bore people who aren’t interested. I think the same guideline would apply to pet lovers, people that just discovered a great diet, or health regimen.

  68. Database Developer Dude*

    Can we please have discussion of naked coed saunas and pole dancing off limits at work please??? pretty please???

  69. Database Developer Dude*

    Girl Scout cookie sales do NOT count as MLM. You (or your daughter) don’t recruit other girls to sell cookies and take a percentage of their sales, or have them take a percentage of the sales of girls THEY recruit…that’s not how it works.

    Any workplace that got in the way of me getting my Thin Mints fix, I’d find a way around the ban with a quickness. I’m a grown adult, don’t TELL me what I can and cannot purchase.

  70. Introvert girl*

    I have a problem with my coworkers discussing things that to my knowledge shouldn’t be discussed in an office. I only once remarked to my teamleader asking him to make sure the subject was dropped and that was when the guys of the team were discussing who they wanted to sleep with in the office. Mind you, we work in an international environment and they are talking in a language that most people don’t understand. But I do and it bothers me. After the sex-incident that laster a couple of months, the conversation has headed towards gambling and during working hours the guys shout to each other which sports events they should gamble on and which not. I have my earphones in and try not to hear what they say. It doesn’t always work and makes focussing on my job really hard. The problem is also that my teamleader participates in those conversations and it’s really not my place to tell him that they are inappropriate. Any advise what to do?

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