How to Navigate Taboo Topics in the Workplace

I think we all can agree that workplaces are much more productive and pleasant when there is not unnecessary tension between team members. Whether it be a coworker to coworker relationship, manager to employee relationship, or supervisor to team member relationship, everything runs much more smoothly and everyone is much happier when certain “taboo topics” aren’t brought out in the open.


But as I am sure you’ve noticed, 2020 is a whole new ball game, and now more than ever people are questioning what is considered “taboo” and how exactly to navigate these topics in the workplace.


Today I am sharing with you my top tips, as an HR expert, on how to navigate taboo topics in the workplace.


Let’s start with an obvious one. Salary and compensation. Now I feel like this is pretty much a no-brainer, but rule number one of navigating taboo topics in the workplace is never discuss your salary with a co-worker. Whether you make more or less than this co-worker, the discussion alone can cause hard feelings, resentment, and jealousy, thus creating a toxic work environment and tension. So what do you do if someone approaches you about your pay? Politely decline the discussion.


Next up, politics. Now with it being 2020, we of course had to touch on this taboo topic. Politics should never be discussed in the workplace. Light discussions can turn into heated debates in a matter of seconds. People can begin teaming up on others or singling out individuals. Instead of focusing on the company work at hand, the mental space of the employees will be taken up by who’s voting for who, who supports what, etc. Our advice for this topic? Avoid it at all costs in the workplace and if it does come up, just mention that you are not comfortable discussing politics, but appreciate that everyone has opinions on the matter.


Another taboo topic to discuss in the workplace is personal difficulties. This can be a tricky one as many co-workers become friends, not just co-workers. However, it is important that unless on lunch, break, or out of the office, conversations are kept strictly on work subjects. It is great to find a friend at work, but discussing the latest reality TV show instead of working will not produce the results needed for you or the company. 


Lastly, I want to touch on frustration and conflict. These “taboo topics” are actually really important to be dealt with and discussed by the *appropriate* parties involved. If a co-worker wants you to engage in gossip about what another co-worker did wrong, no, that is not productive and the conversation should not be engaged. However, if you are having conflicts with a certain co-worker and feel as though the team would all benefit from the two of you talking out the frustrations and coming to an agreement, this is important! Make sure that you schedule a meeting with either a representative from HR or your supervisor and the individual in order to have a neutral third party observer/mediator present. 


When in doubt, check your company’s employee handbook or chat with a member of the HR team. They will always be able to guide you in the right direction regarding how to handle certain topics and situations in the workplace!


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