Take the 2-minute tour ×
The Workplace Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for members of the workforce navigating the professional setting. It's 100% free, no registration required.

In some countries like India, the first instance of bonding at the workplace comes from asking questions like "What do your parents do?", "How many children do you have?", and other questions that are pointedly aimed at knowing the minute, private details of a person.

Then there are practices like inviting people, that you have just acquainted yourself, to your home so that they get to know details from your personal life and meet people from your family. Accepting an offer of hospitality is normally expected and rejection for any reason is considered an insult.

The same questions asked to people in countries like, say the US or UK, are a strict no-no at the workplace and vehemently frowned upon since they could be interpreted as sexual advances or being too nosy.

Are there some acceptable topics and behaviours for new employees at the global workplace to acquaint yourself with people without causing a faux pas of sorts? What are the topics/behaviours to avoid?

share|improve this question
14  
I think the weather is usually a safe topic... –  FrustratedWithFormsDesigner Oct 9 '12 at 17:47
4  
This question resolves down to give me a list of things i can talk about in a list of places. There is no universal list India and the US are perfect examples in the US the invite to meet the family is reserved for the closest friends. Inviting someone you work with but do not really know to your home would seem creepy to many in the US. And a supervisor could get in trouble for doing so with an employee. –  Chad Oct 9 '12 at 19:40
1  
"How beautifully blue the sky / The glass is rising very high / Continue fine I hope it may / Although it rained but yesterday / Tomorrow it may rain again / They say the country wants some rain / Though people say, I know not why / That we shall have a warm July" –  kevin cline Oct 9 '12 at 21:21
10  
@FrustratedWithFormsDesigner until it veers of into the climate debate –  ratchet freak Oct 9 '12 at 22:10
    
@Chad Perhaps you misunderstood the question. It's not asking for a list of topics that are safe to discuss per region, but it's instead asking for topics that are globally considered "safe" social topics for any environment, culture, or region. That list is extremely short, and I personally couldn't think of any other than the weather, although the other two I agree with from answers below are food and work-domain-related topics. I've voted to reopen as I think this is a good question for the Workplace, and hope you will perhaps reconsider :) –  Rachel Oct 12 '12 at 14:15
show 2 more comments

4 Answers

up vote 8 down vote accepted

I think talking about news items or similar things related to your work domain are safe topics for discussion.

If you are working in a technology firm or with technically minded people, talking about the latest gadget ("Did you see the review for the iPhone 5?") or an interesting technical topic ("Here is a link about how Facebook manage their global deployment") may work.

Food is also a safe topic. Something like: "Hey, I just moved here. Can you recommend some good restaurants?" or "I don't know much about Indian food, can you recommend something for me to try?" is a nice ice breaker.

share|improve this answer
1  
+1 for adding food to the list. Of course! Thank you. –  Arpith Oct 10 '12 at 1:07
1  
Both good suggestions! Entertainment-related stuff is usually pretty good, too: movies, television and sport. –  Carson63000 Oct 11 '12 at 4:42
5  
Discussing religion should be generally avoided, so iPhone 5 is not a good topic :-P –  vartec Oct 11 '12 at 15:17
    
vartec: iPhone5? How could you leave android behind??? (Case in point! :-p ) –  Arpith Nov 22 '12 at 16:37
add comment

Other than fairly innocuous topics, like the weather, I think the one topic that can almost always be considered safe is the work/job itself. If you think about it, it's the one thing all coworkers within the same company have in common, and it's a topic someone new to the company should be interested, even excited, to talk about.

Some of the questions I was asked, when I was new, were about:

  • Past work experience. I had none, so this died down soon, but people did tell me where they worked before or where they went to college, and I just listened.
  • Company history and milestones. Think of questions like "Did you know that back in 2010 we...", and typically the person telling the story was directly involved in whatever the milestone was.
  • My role and responsibilities. Some had no idea what my role in the company would be about, so they just asked about that, and those who had some idea asked questions to see if I was clear on my role, and offered advice when I was not.
share|improve this answer
    
Some people consider it rude to talk about work during breaks, as your colleagues might want to relax and think about something else. –  Niphra Mar 25 '13 at 12:39
add comment

I guess talking about the weather is a good way to have an engaged conversation. But breaking into a song like @kevin cline is probably going to scare people off (atleast in my case, given my voice).

Also adding to @Roc Marti's answer, one more topic that we could talk about is probably new trends/ competitor reviews that have an impact on the broader domain your work purports to, if not the work itself.

New releases in various domains (gadgets, automobiles, technology, etc.) as well as the universal ice-breaker food,could be considered to be relatively safe for having a good, non-offensive conversation with a peer.

share|improve this answer
1  
I think politics is a minefield best avoided. Perfectly reasonable people can get a little strange when talking about politics. –  Luhar Oct 10 '12 at 2:03
    
Hmmm point accepted. Was worth a try. :-) –  Arpith Oct 10 '12 at 2:40
2  
Check out this question: How do I avoid discussing government politics at work?. Although closed, I think it's clear from it and the answers that discussing politics in the workplace can be very uncomfortable. –  Yannis Oct 10 '12 at 3:18
    
@JimG. Edited accordingly. –  Arpith Oct 10 '12 at 13:17
    
@Arpith: Upvoted accordingly. :) –  Jim G. Oct 10 '12 at 14:27
add comment

You can ask people if they have any plans for the weekend or how was their last weekend. Also you can talk about which route you take to work, if there's construction work going on or renovations you could talk about how long it's been going on for. Generally speaking if you find a topic that's focus isn't on you or the person you're talking about the conversation will be more comfortable (obviously don't gossip about co-workers but if it's someone outside the building like the construction workers than it's ok).

share|improve this answer
add comment

Your Answer

 
discard

By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.