What You Should Never Talk About At Work

You can’t get ahead if you aren’t open and honest, but it’s a fine balance between authenticity and TMI.

What You Should Never Talk About At Work
[Photo: Flickr user Heiner Adams]

In an age when it’s easy to overshare everything, from what you’re eating for lunch to a personal crisis, it’s hard to know when to keep your mouth shut. Especially when experts actually encourage opening up to colleagues in order to form strong bonds–and networks.


What to do?

Travis Bradberry, PhD, author of Emotional Intelligence 2.0 and cofounder of TalentSmart, cautions, “Disclosures that feel like relationship builders in the moment can wind up as obvious no-nos with hindsight.”

Emotional intelligence, the innate skill that allows people to listen well, read, and respond to others with empathy, comes in handy when navigating these situations. Unfortunately, some experts believe that since not everyone has a natural tendency towards emotional intelligence, the skill should be taught in elementary school. If it hasn’t been, psychologists aren’t completely sure that adults can enhance their existing capabilities.


What Bradberry and company discovered is that the greater the emotional intelligence, or EQ, the better the individual’s performance at work. EQ is responsible for 58% of job performance, and those with a higher EQ make an average of $29,000 more than their less emotionally intelligent colleagues, according to their research.

If you’re curious about how emotionally intelligent you are, you can to gauge where you stand on self awareness, emotional self control, empathy, and adaptability.

Even if the score is less than stellar, Bradberry’s research, which surveyed over 500,000 people, gleaned the gaffes that constitute crossing the line at work.


Here is a list of the most common:

  1. How much you hate your job
  2. How much you’d like to snag someone else’s job
  3. Your current job hunt
  4. Ranting about a colleague’s incompetence
  5. Your salary
  6. Your religious and political beliefs
  7. Offensive jokes
  8. Friending coworkers on Facebook–and letting them see your off-hours shenanigans
  9. Your sex life
  10. Speculating about someone else’s sex life
  11. Your “wild” past
  12. How intoxicated you like to get

Some of these are pretty straightforward, others are trickier to parse.

When Happy Hour Gets Too Happy

For example, as psychologist Art Markman writes for our Ask the Experts column, hitting up happy hour with coworkers is “part of the social glue that binds your work community,” as that shared experience encourages inside jokes and group memories–all good things for your career.


While some staffers may balk at spending one single minute more with their office mates than absolutely necessary, there are also those who can’t wait to tie one on. And another. And another.

Bradberry points out that just talking about getting blotto on the weekend can have a negative effect on how you’re viewed at work. “Sharing this will not get people to think you’re fun,” he writes. “Instead, they will see you as unpredictable, immature, and lacking in good judgment.” Ditto for consuming one too many during happy hour.

Too Much Complaining

As humans, we are practically hardwired to complain, so much so that we gripe about once per minute, according to research. Misery loves company, so much so that according to Trevor Blake, author of Three Simple Steps, “The easiest way to build friendship and communicate is through something negative.”


Especially when the complaining is about someone else’s incompetence. You can rage against the machine all day long, says Bradberry, but that won’t get you far if you don’t have the power to help them improve or get rid of them.

If their incompetence is dragging down your own view of work, it’s even worse. “The last thing anyone wants to hear at work is someone complaining about how much they hate their job,” he writes. “This brings down the morale of the group.” Your manager is watching, Bradberry cautions, and there are plenty of positive people out there who would be delighted to replace you.

The Compensation Conversation

The good news about broadcasting how much money you make is that it’s a quick way to see where you stand among your peers. And if your company is on board with salary transparency, it can eliminate a host of contentions, from wage negotiations to the .


On the flip side, if your employer hasn’t made the leap to reveal such information to all employees, comparison won’t just be a thief of joy. As Bradberry writes, telling all only breeds negativity. “It’s impossible to allocate salaries with perfect fairness, and revealing yours gives your coworkers a direct measure of comparison,” he argues. “As soon as everyone knows how much you make, everything you do at work is considered against your income.”


About the author

Lydia Dishman is a staff editor for Fast Company's Work Life section. She has written for CBS Moneywatch, Fortune, The Guardian, Popular Science, and the New York Times, among others.


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