Observing this one simple rule for on-the-job conversation will earn you respect, admiration and maybe even that promotion.
You think I’m going to say “politics,” right?
Well, you would be correct in that, especially this year, political talk is a dicey subject to broach with people whom you 1) don’t know intimately, 2) depend on for your paycheck and 3) must continue to associate with even after the election.
You probably also know that religion, your sex life and the size of that paycheck are also subjects to steer clear of in a work setting. Some curmudgeonly people even feel that your cute kid, your cute puppy, and your endless home remodel should also be verboten, or at least indulged only in small doses.
Most people have a sense that the above subject areas can pose more risks than rewards. But there is an even more general guideline that will reliably keep you out of hot water:
Avoid speaking in ways that make you look bad.
Sounds almost too easy, doesn’t it? But obeying this simple dictum can save headaches, embarrassment and even possible job loss.
It eliminates all discussion of how dirty your house is, how much time you spend on Twitter, your tax audit, your messy divorce, the deplorable state of your undergarments and your extensive knowledge of curse words.
Most conversations having to do with the status of your digestion, fertility, therapy, diet and allergies will also magically go away, setting you up for your new image of a healthy, reliable, positive team member.
If you only speak in manners that reflect well on you, you will never grouse about how much you hate your job, your boss or your customers. You sure won’t brag about your expertise in filching office supplies or gaming your expense account. Nor will you mention your recreational drug or drinking habits.
Perhaps you’re thinking this doesn’t leave much to talk about. Au contraire! You can, for example, discuss work as much as you want. You are also free to chat about hobbies, the movie you saw last weekend, the great book you’re reading, the class you just signed up for, the weather, sports, art, history and music. You may even mention — within reason — your kids, puppy, and that home remodel, as well as wedding plans, an upcoming vacation, and your new car, computer, phone or boat.
Karen Burns is the author of The Amazing Adventures of Working Girl: Real-Life Career Advice You Can Actually Use and of the novel “The Paris Effect.” Email her at email@example.com.