Water Cooler Chat: 7 Dos and Don'ts

by Salary.com Staff - Original publish date: January 16, 2012

One way to blow off steam and recharge your batteries at work is to chat with co-workers. While talking about topics unrelated to work may seem unproductive, it actually helps to build the relationships that are necessary for good teamwork and workplace morale.

However, it's important to remember that no matter how comfortable with or friendly toward your co-workers you feel, there are simply some topics that are better suited to Saturday night than Monday morning.

This article explores seven topics that are acceptable, and seven topics that are taboo.

Water cooler do: Sunday hike

Go ahead and highlight the great hike you took on Sunday morning. Sharing your interests, hobbies, and passions is a good way for co-workers to get to know you.

Water cooler don't: Sunday service

Don't discuss the church service you attended on Sunday morning. Religious preferences should never be discussed at work, and proselytizing is even more off limits.

It's fine to tell someone what religion you practice if they ask, but don't go any deeper than that.

Water cooler do: Book group book

Go ahead and enlighten others about the book you are currently reading in book group.

If you've recently found yourself enjoying a real page-turner you can't put down, other readers at work will definitely appreciate hearing about it.

Water cooler don't: Hot button book

Mentioning the book you are currently reading about healthcare reform, global warming, or some other political hot button, followed by a 10-minute diatribe stating your opinion is not a good subject for conversation.

Nothing gets people worked up like politics. It will be best for you in the long run if your colleagues, bosses, and supervisors, all of whom have an impact on your career, aren't aware of your leanings.

Water cooler do: Travel talk

Definitely report on how you spent your recent vacation (without too many boring details).

Whether you travelled somewhere exotic or explored the local scene on a "staycation," your co-workers will most likely love to hear about your experiences. 

Water cooler don't: Pillow talk

Keep to yourself what you and your husband/wife/significant other did in the hotel room.

It's absolutely verboten to discuss your sex life with co-workers. No one wants to hear about it.

Water cooler do: Goals and dreams

Sharing your career and life objectives, as well as how you plan to meet them, not only boosts relationships, it can increase your productivity. When you share your goals with someone, your accountability increases.

Water cooler don't: Personal finances

Sharing how much money you currently make, or how much money you need to make, is unprofessional. Discussing finances is important, as long as these discussions are between you and your family.

Water cooler do: Family and friends

Share stories about people you spend your time with outside of work, as long as they are positive.

Talking about your spouse, significant other, kids, or other people outside of work who are important to you gives insight into who you are, and shows how you spend your time.

Water cooler don't: Personal problems

Avoid addressing marital, boyfriend, or other personal problems. There are enough issues to solve in the workplace.

No one needs the added burden of your personal problems. In addition, sharing personal problems indicates a level of familiarity that most co-workers aren't comfortable with.

Water cooler do: Restaurant reviews

Do recount the details of the terrific meal you had last night at the new Tapas joint in town.

Sharing experiences that others also enjoy is a great way to connect.

Water cooler don't: Drunken disorderly

Don't notify your colleagues about the six shots of tequila that accompanied your meal.

Never share any information that casts you in a negative light, or highlights your bad habits.

Water cooler do: Good news

Feel free to disclose a co-worker or colleague's promotion, engagement, new baby, or other good news.

As long as you have the person's permission, it's nice to spread joyful, positive news.

Water cooler don't: Bad news

Don't reveal a co-worker or colleague's medical problems, financial problems, marital problems, or other personal problems.

Sharing negative information portrays you as a gossip, as well as someone who is not trustworthy.

Keep the chatter cheerful

Chatting with co-workers and colleagues can be a great way to get to know one another, build relationships, and foster teamwork.

Sharing can be good for the work environment, as long as you are aware of what to share!