CareerQuest Newsletter
Taboo Topics in Your Office

October 2008
My dear friends, colleagues, clients and students:

This month's feature article is How to Handle Taboo Topics in Your Office.

By popular request, we are forming Quad Groups, physical and virtual. You should have already received an email announcement about this exciting new opportunity, but if you haven't, please send me an email. You won't want to miss your chance to participate in this unique group experience.

We will also continue our Interactive Teleseminars - a lunch-and-learn program. More information coming soon.

Career And Life Counseling From The Heart (Your Career Is a Pathway To Your Soul!) is on track, due to be published by iUniverse, before the end of 2008.

CareerQuest was interviewed by CNN.com regarding "helicopter parents". The article should appear on their website soon.

Career Doctor Don Answers Your Questions appears as a regular feature in the International Society for Pharmaceutical Engineering (ISPE) - New Jersey Chapter newsletters. Visit www.ispe.org to read more.

Many of you have asked us if we provide counseling over the telephone and through email, as well as face-to-face counseling. The answer is 'yes' to both questions. Pre-paying with credit cards is very easy. Visit the services page of our website to learn more. You can also view past issues of this newsletter on the archives page.

Several of our articles will continue to appear on the website, www.biz4nj.com. The mission of this website is to Help Garden State Business Grow.

Until we meet again through the magic of email, keep your feedback coming.

Peace! Love! Shalom!

Don Sutaria, MS, IE (Prof.), PE
Founder, President & Life-Work Coach
CareerQuest


How to Handle Taboo Topics in Your Office
Preamble
A wise person once told me: when you open your mouth, you either sell yourself or unsell yourself. To that I would like to add: your business manners will either propel you forward or push you back in the world of work.

Based on present day evidence, I would like to discuss some areas and topics which one should avoid discussing at work. Of course, it is not an exhaustive list cast in stone! You can use your own best judgment based on the corporate culture of your organization and your personal relationships.

One school of thought says to let it all hang out, in the interest of honesty! Another says to keep a tight lip on everything. My opinion is that supervisors, peers and subordinates do not wish to know everything about your personal life, unless it is temporarily affecting work performance. It is just a case of too much information (tmi). Perhaps you can share your temporary difficulties with your immediate supervisor in utmost confidence. As the saying goes, loose lips sink ships! Some of the personal things you divulge at work may come back to haunt you! I don't believe in lying, but rather controlled release of information, at the right time, to the right people!

Best to Avoid Talking About (Thirty Hot Potatoes!):

1. Religion

Religion is such a personal and emotional issue. Broadly speaking, we probably have religionists (regardless of the religion they believe in), atheists and agnostics around us. You risk rupturing your day-to-day working relationships by insisting upon discussing your religious beliefs at work. Most people don't like to hear that you despise their particular religious beliefs, or that the specific religion you believe in has the keys to the kingdom!

2. Politics
This is the reason for this season.....it's 2008 election time! A man convinced against his will, is of the same opinion still! There is a lot of truth in that saying! You may have given your heart and soul to your political party, but do you have anything to gain (except unnecessary friction at work) by debating the virtues of your party and trying to win over your associates to your pattern of thinking? If we all thought alike and agreed to everything regarding politics, we risk becoming a one-party system, or worse, a dictatorship!

3. Sex
Be aware of the strict modern-day laws in the workplace pertaining to sexual harassment. Your sex life is your own business and your partner's. It can make the listeners very uncomfortable, especially when your coworkers are forced to overhear conversations in adjoining cubicles. You may develop a reputation as a sexual exhibitionist or a sexual deviate. To top it all off, if people lodge a complaint against you, it could even jeopardize your job! Do you want to take that chance?

4. Sexually Transmitted Diseases
Regardless whether you have a sexually transmitted disease or not, why would you want to broadcast your condition, or that of your partner's? It is more appropriate to discuss your medical concerns with your doctor, in the privacy of her office. You have nothing to gain by exposing your medical secrets to your coworkers.

5. Money
Many of us live from paycheck to paycheck. In some respects, Americans have a love/hate relationship with money. Some people may even discuss intimate sex lives, but discussions about money seem to turn them off! There never seems to be enough money to go around for all our needs, wants and luxuries! To avoid friction, it's best to avoid discussing this often volatile subject.

6. Race
Race may have been subordinated, politically speaking, but you really don't know what's in people's hearts! Why cause antagonism?

7. Alcohol Abuse
Many families have been ruined by alcohol abuse. If someone asks for your help, recommending medical attention and/or Alcoholics Anonymous may be the best course of action. Otherwise, it is not in your best interest to discuss alcohol abuse - yours or someone else's - within the confines of the office.

8. Drug Abuse
This issue affects the entire spectrum of the population. Professional help is usually the best course of action. As discussed above under Alcohol Abuse, it would be advantageous to not discuss drug abuse issues in the office. There is nothing to be gained by this type of gossip.

9. Domestic Violence
If someone confides in you regarding domestic violence, you may feel compelled to assist the person in finding the appropriate channel of help. The key here is confidentiality - and to refrain from gossip!

10. Mental Illness
This is a rather complex issue. Unless you are a trained and qualified psychologist, I would refrain from discussing other people's mental health problems, and even yours, with anyone at work. Mental illness still has a slight stigma attached to it. It is best to leave this discussion to the professionals.

11. Difficulty with Fertility
If you or your partner are experiencing fertility issues, it would be wise to refrain from discussing this problem with your office colleagues. Not only may they not be interested, but at the same time they cannot give you any competent advice. Reserve this discussion for your healthcare provider.

12. Adoption
The adoption process can be long, costly and sometimes emotionally difficult. Share in your coworker's joy when the adoption is complete, but respect their privacy during the process.

13. Suicidal Tendencies
If a coworker shares with you the suicidal thoughts they are having, you may feel morally compelled to assist them in getting appropriate help. As with many of the other topics discussed in this article, this situation requires discretion and consideration for the person involved. Avoid any and all gossip relating to this matter.

14. Gender (including transgender)
The war of the sexes is as old as Adam and Eve! Sexist jokes and comments are passť, nay even illegal, in an office setting. Performance and achievements should count, not the sex and gender. Don't you agree?

15. Sexual Orientation
Depending upon the culture of your particular workplace, it may or may not be appropriate to discuss issues regarding sexual orientation. Sensitivity and discretion are imperative. Keep in mind there are strict laws now protecting the rights of gay and transgendered people.
...your business manners will either propel you forward or push you back in the world of work.
16. Bodily Functions
You are better off leaving this exposition to 'shock jocks' such as Howard Stern!

17. Medical Details
Showing your scars to receive stars is not recommended. Most people have enough medical problems to contend with in their own families. Your office people may even wonder if you are making sufficient effort at work to justify your existence in the company. They may even be resentful if they have to share a part of your workload.

18. Marital Difficulties
Is there really anything to be gained by discussing your marital problems at the office? You may get a little sympathy at times, but more often than not, your coworkers may be more concerned about how your homelife is affecting your job performance. Do you want to foster resentment? It may even backfire on you, causing you to lose your job!

19. Menopause (male or female)
Perhaps your friends and coworkers of the same gender may understand and empathize with you, but beware of discussing menopause in mixed company.

20. Abortion
As you can guess, abortion is a highly emotionally-charged topic, since the days of the decision in Roe vs. Wade. The debates on pro-choice versus pro-life will continue forever! We can argue that abortion is an intertwined cultural, legal, moral and religious issue, and we feel so strongly about our own viewpoints, casting aspersions on our opponents.

21. Welfare
Another hot potato like abortion. In spite of unearthing occasional cheats, American humaneness and kindness does extend to those less fortunate. There is nothing vital to be gained by having a polarizing debate on the issue of welfare.

22. Salaries
Most companies are very tight-lipped about staff salaries. A few companies freely publish the salaries from the president to the janitor. Discussion of salaries seems to sow discontent within the ranks of a company. Besides, one does not know if colleagues are sharing true information about salaries. You never know what factors were taken into account by management in setting the salary for a particular individual, even though two people may be doing identical-looking jobs!

23. Wars
Whether you are a hawk or a dove, what does it matter in terms of your performance on the job? Spirited discussions at the office on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan generally lead to nowhere, except some heartburns! Stay out of it!

24. Immigration Policies
America, as a nation of immigrants, has always welcomed them. The present situation, with millions of illegal immigrants, defies easy solutions. As someone who migrated to America 45 years ago, I am torn between the two sides, making illegal immigrants into legal immigrants, or sending them back to their native country and asking them to get back in the immigration queue!

25. Child Abuse
Discussing this issue at the office will not garner a solution. An approach, similar to the one under Domestic Violence above, may be more helpful.

26. Career Plans
There is nothing wrong in developing your career advancement plans. However, you do not want to broadcast them blatantly to your supervisor and colleagues. This may cause them to question your loyalty and immediate contributions. Your achievements and project management will speak loudly for you. Instead, bring them to the attention of your supervisor at the time of your annual performance review. In most cases, due rewards will come to you.

27. Ethnicity
History makes it clear that some ethnic groups have been discriminated against. Legal and moral efforts to correct the situation have been done in good faith, but given the condition of the human heart, we have a ways to go! Ethnic stereotypes are still common. Discrimination is the driving fear. Why create ethnicity-related discomfort for people around you?

28. Country of Origin/Nationality
Although America is a country of immigrants, some people are sensitive to revealing their country of origin, for fear of being discriminated against. The present debate on legal and illegal immigration makes this issue even more emotionally charged.

29. Disability
It has been defined as a lack of ability to perform certain functions, or doing so at a slower rate. The impairment may be physical or mental. People with disabilities now have equal rights to education, employment, social and cultural activities. The strongest and most recent law which was passed in 1990 is the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). It implies that all organizations must make reasonable accommodation for people with different needs, based on disabilities. From moral and legal standards it is a done deal, and I cannot see why it even needs to be discussed in an office setting. It is not favoritism, but rather treating your office colleagues with due consideration.

30. Weight
Weight control causes pain and grief to millions of people. Perhaps 25% of the people whom we work with are grossly obese. There are many hypothesis within the medical community as to the cause and treatment of obesity and it should not be assumed that it is simply a matter of personal willpower. It is always the best course of action to treat others with respect and consideration. Accept others for who they are, regardless of their physical appearance.

Closing Comments
I am not advocating a sterile and lifeless workplace. I hope you don't misunderstand the true purpose of this article. We are complex and emotional human beings even in workplace settings. Not robots! Of course we develop good friendships at work, for mutual benefit. You can discuss virtually any of the above topics on your own time - not company time - with a close friend and associate at work. Just don't discuss controversial topics within earshot of others or in mixed company.



Don Sutaria is Founder and President of CareerQuest (formerly New Life Career Counseling), located in New York and New Jersey. CareerQuest is also mentioned in "What Color is Your Parachute?" Sutaria is a consultant to individuals and various corporations, offering executive coaching and career management services. He has developed unique methods for capturing jobs in the new millennium. He appeared on a Phil Donahue TV special on unorthodox methods of job hunting. Known as "Career Doctor Don", he has been quoted in The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, The Salt Lake Tribune, The Star-Ledger, The Union Leader, WorkingSmart, SmartMoney, Fortune, Money, and on WINS and WOR radio. He specializes in counseling of international professionals, Generation X (age 20-29), career changers, freelancers, consultants, mid-career executives and people over age 50. He really believes that your career is a pathway to your soul.

Mr. Sutaria has over forty years of diversified industrial and management experience, complemented by training in career development and hands-on experience in career advising. He is an international cross-cultural trainer. He has also served on committees of several organizations, and conducted courses, seminars and symposiums at Columbia University, New York University, Nyack College, Alliance Graduate School of Counseling, Rutgers, and Stevens Institute of Technology. He is a member of the Association of Career Professionals International and the Career Counselors Consortium.

Don earned his MS degree in Management from Kansas State University, an IE (Professional) degree in International Management and Personnel Relations from Columbia University, and obtained New York University's postgraduate Certificate in Adult Career Planning and Development.

Don Sutaria is the author of 
Career And Life Counseling From The Heart (Your Career Is A Pathway To Your Soul!) due to be published in 2008.