Why We Should Stop Talking About Work (And What We Should Talk About Instead) (2023)

Put yourself in the following scenario. You’re going to a gathering. A party, maybe, if it’s the weekend or a particularly festive Tuesday. Maybe it’s a work thing or a fun thing, and you’re tagging along with a friend. Maybe it’s both. You don’t really expect to know a lot of others in attendance except maybe someone that you met once or twice at a similar occasion. First names and distinctive features will be all you remember or recognize, so you know that you’re definitely well on your way to meeting a lot of new people all at once.

"Listen, are you breathing just a little and calling it life?" - Mary Oliver

Why We Should Stop Talking About Work (And What We Should Talk About Instead) (1)

If you’re anything like me, the outlined situation sounds a little stressful. Not because meeting people is unpleasant or coming up with personal memory games for names and faces takes a toll (mnemonic devices are pretty fun), but because I often find that meeting new people can many times center around similar topics of conversation, the main one being:

“So what do you do?”

Now, if you’ve been asked that question before or if you are a human being at all, you generally know the person asking it to mean, “And what trade do you engage in that allows you to pay your bills?” And probably if you answered it literally about all the various things that you actually do (“Well, I start by getting up in the morning around 6:30, brush my teeth, feed the cat…"), you’d get a few raised eyebrows in your direction.

There’s nothing wrong with this question. There’s nothing criminal about being interested in a person’s profession. In fact, I’ve used this line myself, many times. And while I wouldn’t say that I’m completely disinterested in the answer, I think I’ve asked the question is more out of a defaulthabit rather than a genuine desire to know anything real about the person standing in front of me. And guess what? There are many ask-worthy andthought-provoking questionsthat mostpeople willbeMORE excited to answer.

Work is a big part of our lives, that much we know. Since Annie Dillard said, “How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives” and since I tend to take what Annie says to heart, we would be correct in the assumption that work is a larger portion of how our lives are spent. Whether it’s personal, professional or a little bit of both, if it’s something we can throw ourselves into and immediately forget the time or if it’s something that makes us watch the clock minute by minute, it’s definitely something to consider.


It’s not the only thing.

It just can’t be. Because whatever you’re doing that 40-odd some hours of the week, there’s also the other 168 where you’re doing something else. Sleeping, probably, at least part of the time, so. If you subtract 8 hours a night x 7 days a week (right?), that’s 123 hours you’re living the rest of your life.

(Video) 4 Phrases We Should Stop Using At Work (And What To Say Instead)

And even though it would be nice if we all really loved our jobs all the time, it turns out that’s a rare circumstance. And if you’re reading this and you think, “I actually really enjoy my work,” then congratulations, we’re all really, really happy that that’s true. Well, I am. I won’t speak for everyone. Some people might react in jealousy or roll their eyes at your seemingly good luck, but there are a lot of reasons why you might like your job and a lot of them (probably) have to do with your attitude and the way you look at it and engage yourself within it. But that’s another story altogether.

The point is that if you can begin the occasion of meeting someone without immediately asking about their job, you may learn a little more about who this person really is. If you say something like, “So, Janice, what do you like to do for fun?” or “How do you spend your time off?” they might get to:

  1. Tell you about something they really, really like about their life. And it might be their job! Yay! But if it isn’t, it still gives them the wiggle room to talk about something else that they’re good at and like to do. It also might open a door that makes them realize, say, I don’t really have a lot of time for extracurriculars because I spend so much damn time in the office, which could get a little dark, but at least it’s real and real is better than phoney, am I right?
  2. Tell you about a passion project they’re working on! It turns out that a lot of us have personal side gigs when it comes to “our work.” Sure, we’ve got our day jobs and whether we like them or not, we’ve still got those burning desires to do our own thing and so we do it, after hours, late into the night, getting together research to start our own food truck or write that novel that’s been swimming around in our brains. That’s something worth discussing, yeah?
  3. Escape the common pressure that comes with the standard What-do-you-do line. It turns out that whether we like our jobs or we don’t, when dropped in a room of strangers, we can often succumb to the mounting pressure to be impressive. We might talk about our careers and money-making endeavors with an edge of shyness, of wondering does-this-seem-cool-enough and every time the person we’re talking to looks around, we’ll fear that they’re looking for someone better to talk to when really they’re just looking for the bathroom. The fact is, working for a living is always something to be proud of. You’re filling a need that wouldn’t otherwise be met. And if we were all brain surgeons, we wouldn’t be better off. So even when you feel pretty low on the cool-job totem pole, remember that you’re doing something the world needs. Even if it’s not glamorous and it’s only temporary (and we’ve all been there), you are appreciated.

Will you try this the next time you’re introduced to a stranger, or around a campfire with new friends? Or perhaps on a first date?! We even took the time to compile specific questions to easily break the ice or dive deeper into any of these situations. Be warned, it will probably catch them off-guard. They may be poised to answer the question they’re already expecting from you. They might have to think about it for a minute. You might say, Hey, I know this is kind of a weird way to get acquainted, but it also might be fun. Fun is an important thing to have, right?



Helen Williamsis the Community Love Director at Holstee. She is passionate about cooking and writing which pair well together on her vegetarian food blog,green girl eats. She's strives, every day, tobe less sorry.

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(Video) Why You Should Not Talk About Work At Work


What should you not talk about at work? ›

4 Topics to Avoid Discussing in The Workplace
  • Religion. ...
  • Politics. ...
  • Detailing Sensitive Personal Issues. ...
  • Changing Jobs. ...
  • About EG Workforce Solutions.
11 Aug 2022

How do I get people to stop talking about work? ›

A more tactful approach is often necessary.
  1. Use nonverbal signalling to indicate that you are busy. ...
  2. Reassure the talker. ...
  3. Set aside time to talk. ...
  4. Confront the talker in a candid way. ...
  5. Set aside a “quiet room” or quiet part of the office that is a no-talking zone. ...
  6. Establish rules for talking at work.

Why do we talk about work? ›

At the base level, people who talk about work correctly tend to explore why their project is the most important thing they could be working on, and even more powerfully, why the problem excites them. When we talk about our work correctly, we are spreading ideas.

What to say instead of how was work? ›

"What happened at work today?" Asking this question lets the person you're talking to evaluate what happened today and unpack it for you by first getting them to think about the state and quality of their day.

Why you shouldn't talk about your personal life at work? ›

Don't share intimate details about your personal life. Co-workers can and will use the information against you. People have strong, passionate views on both topics. You may alienate a co-worker or be viewed negatively in a way that could impact your career.

Why should you not talk about your personal life at work? ›

Never complain to your coworkers about your life, at work or at home. Talking negatively about yourself, your job, other coworkers or your boss demonstrates a lack of confidence. Being seen as a gossip may undermine your position with coworkers and your supervisor.

How do you politely say you don't want to talk about something? ›

Useful Expressions to Handle Uncomfortable Questions
  1. I'd rather not say.
  2. I'd prefer not to talk about that.
  3. I'd rather not get into [this topic] at this event.
  4. I'd prefer not to discuss this right now.
  5. I'm sorry, that's private.
  6. That's a little too personal.
  7. That topic is too difficult to discuss at this moment.

Should you talk about work outside of work? ›

While talking about work may be cathartic at times, it's ultimately not beneficial. So next time you and fellow team members hang out outside of work, try talking about something else. And, if worse comes to worst and you need a fallback topic of conversation, it's okay to start with the weather.

Is it bad to talk at work? ›

Talking too much at the office -- or anywhere -- is a bad habit and thankfully one that can be broken. Like unlearning any unwanted habitual behavior, it takes time, impulse control, practice and plenty of it. Say it with us now: Less talk, more action. And don't make us say it again.

What are the 5 reasons to work? ›

5 Reasons to Work (Other than Money!)
  • 1.) Friendship. While many people have friends outside of the workplace, whether through interests or hobbies, work friends are a great thing to have as well. ...
  • 2.) Consistency. ...
  • 3.) Intellectual Challenge. ...
  • 4.) Clarity of Self. ...
  • 5.) Perspective.
22 Jul 2021

Is it better to speak up or stay silent at work? ›

Employee voice — speaking up with ideas, concerns, opinions or information — is vital for organizational performance and innovation. On the flip side, silence is at the root of many well-known organizational disasters.

Is it correct to say what do you work? ›

“WHERE do you work” is OK, but of the two choices given in the question, “what work do you do, “ is correct.

How can I say that's not my job without sounding rude? ›

Try phrasing your response like this: "I'd love to be able to assist you with this task. However, our supervisor originally assigned this task to you, and the task isn't within the scope of my responsibilities. I'm going to politely decline, and I recommend speaking to management to find a solution."

What can I say instead of works well with others? ›

What is another word for one who works well with others?
team playerdedicated team member
team-oriented workerone who collaborates well with others
one who embraces teamworkone who communicates well with others

Why is it important to separate work and personal life? ›

Setting boundaries to separate your work and personal life not only increases efficiency at work, but it also reduces stress in your personal life. Both of these mean more relaxation and less burnout. And for employers, it means a reduced turnover rate while building a reputation as a great place to work.

How do I stop oversharing at work? ›

Make sure to ask people plenty of questions and ask yourself if your conversations feel inclusive and balanced. Whenever you're actively listening, you're not saying something damaging. So, make sure to pass the mic during conversations and you've already started to rein in the oversharing at work.

How do I keep my life private at work? ›

How to Keep Your Personal Life Out of The Office
  1. Identify Your Personal Boundaries. ...
  2. Next, Assert Those Boundaries. ...
  3. Keep Your Professional and Personal Social Accounts Separate. ...
  4. Accept That Work-Life Balance Will Always Be a Balancing Act.

Why you should keep your personal life private? ›

That's why keeping your personal life private will protect you from unnecessary gossip, drama, and people who just want to gloat over your mistakes or your weaknesses. Privacy gives you peace of mind and confidence because you will be able to make more authentic decisions and form more genuine relationships.

How do I keep everything private? ›

How to Keep Your Private Life Private
  1. Resist the Urge to “Share” on Facebook. Stop! ...
  2. Stay Behind the Cameras. ...
  3. Say “No” to TMI Tweets. ...
  4. Talk, Don't Text. ...
  5. Don't Ever Kiss and Tell at Work. ...
  6. Pick Your Partners Wisely. ...
  7. Pick Your Confidants Carefully. ...
  8. Skimp On the Details.
28 Oct 2020

What to do when someone is talking about you at work? ›

How to Deal with Coworkers Who Talk About You Behind Your Back, According to 19 Experts
  1. Get curious.
  2. Discover why.
  3. The key to this is dignity.
  4. Don't take the bait and don't feed the trolls.
  5. Ignore it.
  6. Discuss it with your manager.
  7. Confront it head-on.
  8. Report it to HR.
12 Mar 2021

How do you say you don't want to do something professionally? ›

Examples of ways to say “no”
  1. “Unfortunately, I have too much to do today. ...
  2. “That sounds fun, but I have a lot going on at home.”
  3. “I'm not comfortable doing that task. ...
  4. “Now isn't a good time for me. ...
  5. “Sorry, I have already committed to something else.
17 Aug 2021

How do you respond to we don't talk anymore? ›

The usual reply is "oh I don't know, nothing specific right now I guess".

What to say when you don't want to reply? ›

Good ways to say anything but "No Comment" to questions you really don't want to answer: "I'm sorry but I'm not able to speak to that subject" "Thanks for asking but I'm not able to answer that question" "I'm sorry but that information is proprietary"

Is it worth speaking up at work? ›

There are so many benefits to making yourself heard: You gain visibility, increase your influence, and enhance your credibility and social capital — all of which are needed to succeed at work.

What are the 3 things one should not do at workplace? ›

5 Things You Should Never Do at Work
  • Lie. Sure there are times when you might feel like lying to a client or co-worker will make the situation easier, but being seen as an honest person is more important for your professional reputation. ...
  • Burn bridges. ...
  • React while upset. ...
  • Blame. ...
  • Complain.

At what point should you call out of work? ›

Anytime you need to call out you should give your supervisor as much notice as possible before your shift begins, when possible you should contact your employer at least 2 hours before your shift so that they can plan and prepare for your absence.

Is gossiping allowed at work? ›

Gossip at work is harassment. So, you have various options available to stamp it out. You can choose a written or verbal warning. Or, if the situation demands it, you can begin disciplinary proceedings.

Why do some people not talk at work? ›

A lot of people just aren't that interested in small-talk, and it may drain their energy and distract them while working. A lot of people think work is for WORKING, and don't want to be asked questions about their personal lives at work, or be forced to listen to details of others' personal lives.

How do you deal with someone who talks too much at work? ›

How to deal with people who talk too much.
  1. Listen first. ...
  2. Tell the person you're busy. ...
  3. Set up a specific time to talk. ...
  4. If you're close to the person in question, privately take them aside and explain the issue. ...
  5. Just leave.
9 Feb 2022

Is work important in life? ›

For individuals, work is an important feature in structuring: personal and social identity; family and social bonds; ways of making money, and thereby accessing a number of essential and non-essential goods, services and activities; daily routines; level of activity; physical and mental well-being; self-confidence and ...

What are 3 important reasons to work? ›

Why do people work?
  • Money. People work to make money. They need money for food, for rent, and to have fun with their friends and family.
  • Independence. Money isn't the only reason to work. ...
  • Community. People work to be part of and contribute to their communities.

What are the six purposes of work? ›

The six main reasons people work are: play, purpose, potential, emotional pressure, economic pressure, and inertia. It's not compensation. performance, while the latter three hurt it. Play is when you are motivated by the work itself.

Why is silence so powerful at work? ›

Silence enables us to get more done, so it's a great productivity booster. Research shows that people who spend less time talking at the workplace accomplish more and feel less 'stressful' by the end of the week. Silence empowers us to listen effectively. Most of us listen only to respond, not to understand.

Why is silence more effective than words? ›

Silence can be an indication of empathy. When we are really tuning in to how the other person is feeling about what they're saying, we're listening more to the tone of their voice, cadence and speed rather than the actual words, and so replying with words may not be the attuned response.

Why working in silence is the best? ›

Silence Helps You Concentrate

The ability to focus on different tasks is often accompanied by a little background noise. Focus is almost always lost when a sound reaches around 80 decibels. A silent environment or one with just a little background noise will help you concentrate the best.

What are some examples of difficult conversations at work? ›

Below are work place scenarios that might warrant a difficult conversation along with suggestions on how to get started.
  • Asking for a pay increase.
  • Being micromanaged.
  • Receiving a disappointing performance evaluation.
  • Working with a weak co-worker.

What is the true meaning of work? ›

work, labor, travail, toil, drudgery, grind mean activity involving effort or exertion. work may imply activity of body, of mind, of a machine, or of a natural force. too tired to do any work. labor applies to physical or intellectual work involving great and often strenuous exertion.

Are you still at work is it correct? ›

The answer depends on where you are when you ask this question. If you are in your office and ask a coworker by instant message “Are you still in the office?”, then this is correct. If you are home and ask a coworker or partner “Are you still at the office?”, you are correct.

Can you tell me what is the meaning of work? ›

work noun (ACTIVITY)

an activity, such as a job, that a person uses physical or mental effort to do, usually for money: I've got so much work to do. Carrying heavy loads around all day is hard work.

Why you should never say that's not my job? ›

“It's not my job” has become a phrase commonly used in the workplace. But that doesn't mean it should be. Sure, this attitude may help you avoid doing extra work, but it'll probably also prevent you from advancing in your career since you'll be labeled as someone unwilling to go above and beyond.

What should you not say at work? ›

Office Etiquette: 10 Things to Never Say at Work
  • “We've always done it this way.” ...
  • “This will only take a second/minute.” ...
  • “That's not my job.” ...
  • “It's not fair.” ...
  • “I'll Try” ...
  • “I can't stand my boss.” ...
  • “You look tired today. ...
  • “You're all dressed up today!

How do you talk rude without talking? ›

Generally speaking, keep your phone out of sight when you're talking to someone. Give the other person ample time to finish what they have to say. Invest yourself in whatever the other person is saying. Even if you're not so interested in what they're saying, you won't do yourself any favours by acting unimpressed.

What do you call someone who only does things to benefit themselves? ›

selfish Add to list Share. Someone who is selfish cares only about themselves and doesn't consider others.

What do you call a person who gets things done? ›

The adjective proactive can describe a person who gets things done. If you are proactive, you make things happen, instead of waiting for them to happen to you. Active means "doing something." The prefix pro- means "before." So if you are proactive, you are ready before something happens.

What is a word for someone who thinks they are better than everyone? ›

Someone who is conceited thinks that they are the best. Conceited is not as common as pompous, and it is disapproving except in the more informal phrase not to be conceited.

What are the 3 things you should never talk about? ›

If you're looking to improve the content of your small talk conversations, consider these guidelines.
  • Never Talk about How You Slept. ...
  • Never Talk about Your Health. ...
  • Never Talk about Your Period. ...
  • Never Talk about your Dreams. ...
  • Never Talk about Money. ...
  • Never Talk about your Diet.
14 Jun 2014

What is considered inappropriate talk at work? ›

Any topic of conversation that is not relevant to the work you perform is inappropriate for a boss and employee to engage in for any length of time. For example, in-depth discussions about television shows or movies are inappropriate because they take time away from the work you should be doing.

What are the topics you should not talk about? ›

Never ask people about finances (wage or salary), politics, religion, death, age and appearance. Avoid offensive jokes to break the ice, narrow topics, past relationships, serial killers and illnesses as you could easily offend someone or be viewed as a negative person.

Which 3 topics of conversation should be avoided Why? ›

To avoid making anyone feel uncomfortable, don't talk about:
  • politics.
  • religion.
  • personal finances.
  • personal appearance.
  • death or illness.
  • personal gossip.
  • offensive jokes.
  • anything so specific that very few people can relate to it.
3 Sept 2022

What should be avoided in all conversations? ›

Avoid These 10 Mistakes in Your Conversations!
  • Not Paying Attention.
  • Getting Your Phone Involved.
  • Using Outdoor Voices Indoors.
  • Interrupting Others.
  • 5. “ Bulldozing” Others.
  • Being A “Brick Wall”
  • Employing Antisocial Body Language.
  • Overusing Small-Talk.
15 Sept 2022

What are the 3 things that you should never do and why? ›

Try your best to be true in everything you say, think, and do.
  • Neglect your health. You should always strive to be as healthy as you can be; physically, mentally and emotionally. ...
  • Forget who helped you when things got rough. ...
  • Take yourself way too seriously. ...
  • Blame others for the problems you have.
18 Oct 2022

What is inappropriate work behavior? ›

Examples of inappropriate behaviour in the workplace include: harassment - offensive, belittling or threatening behaviour that is unsolicited, and may be repeated. bullying - repeated abusive and offensive behaviour, which in some circumstances may involve inappropriate physical behaviour. aggression and violence.

Can you get fired for talking about a coworker? ›

In some cases, talking behind someone's back can be considered harassment. For example, if you make negative comments about a coworker's appearance or job performance, it could be considered harassment. If your comments are severe or frequent, you could face disciplinary action from your employer.

Can you get in trouble for gossiping at work? ›

In at-will states, employers can fire anyone for any reason. But even in other states, gossip can be considered “creating a hostile work environment” and can lead to disciplinary action eventually leading to termination.

What to talk about when you run out of things to talk about? ›

101 Questions To Ask Your Partner If You're Running Out Of Things To Talk About!
  • Who was your first crush?
  • What's your first memory?
  • What was your first love like?
  • Do you have any regrets?
  • If you could only listen to one album, which would it be?
  • Who is your weirdest celebrity crush?
25 Mar 2020

What kind of topic should be avoided? ›

For example personal information and personal stories, topics with a lack of approachable information, too narrow topics, too broad topics and controversial/political topics, same-sex marriage, religion/race, etc.

What are the two main topics to avoid at work? ›

Here's a list of ten topics to avoid at work:
  • Politics/Current Events. ...
  • Religion. ...
  • Co-Worker, Manager and Work Leadership Problems. ...
  • Family Problems. ...
  • Financial Problems. ...
  • Relationship Issues. ...
  • Health Issues. ...
  • Controversial Hobbies and Involvements.
14 Jan 2013

What should I stop doing at work to be more effective? ›

15 Things You Need to Stop Doing to be More Productive
  • Ignoring your circadian and ultradian rhythms. I'm a morning person. ...
  • Staying indoors. ...
  • Always saying, “yes.” ...
  • Doing the most easy thing first. ...
  • Trying to do everything at once. ...
  • Making excuses. ...
  • Being like Pavlov's dogs. ...
  • Letting molehills become mountains.
30 Oct 2019

What should you never tell your boss? ›

Phrases to Never Say to Your Boss
  • “I Need a Raise.”
  • “I Can't Stand Working With ____.”
  • “It's Not My Fault.”
  • “But We've Always Done It This Way.”
  • “That's Not Part of My Job.”
  • “That's Above My Pay Grade.”
  • “I Have Too Much on My Plate.”
  • “I'm Bored.”


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