I used to be a communications major. I changed because I decided I wanted a decent job with decent pay, and because I realized I cared more about how people communicate and far less about actually doing the communicating.
So I got the decent job and the decent pay, but I’m finding that I’m being compelled into the communicating. Now there are plenty of things I love to talk about, but in our office (as in many offices) there are a handful of subjects that seem almost inescapable. Maybe it is the safe nature of the topics, but the banality of the subject matter quickly sets in.
For those of you who are eagerly hunting a place with a nice desk or (dare to dream) cubicle, I want to take a moment to give you a heads up on six of the major types of workplace conversation topics, and a tip or two on how to participate in, or at the least, survive the workplace chatter.
1) Other People’s Kids
You’re fresh out of college or grad-school and only the most irresponsible (or heavily responsible) people you know have kids, and those kids are babies. Those children are annoying only because of the parade of social media posts that follow their every mediocre achievement. I mean, nobody celebrates when I walk or eat solid food and I do those things nearly every day. But other than the flooding of your news feed and the fact that those parents can’t go out in the evening, they have very little effect on your life. However, your coworkers kids are going to effect you, whether you like it or not.
You work with parents. Parents love to talk about kids, but you are in your mid twenties, give or take, and have no meaningful connection to this topic. Your coworkers do not care. I have a 21 month old nephew. All I have to say in the kids department is, “I think he can basically walk.” But your coworkers want to tell you about their kid’s mid-level sports performance, essentially average grades and how they are unique because they like to do things all other kids do. This particular form of chatter is just something you have to learn to absorb or tune out, because there if you dare to offer input you are simply inviting the office to reprimand you with a simple, “Just wait until you have kids.” Trying to explain that I don’t even have a dog doesn’t deter this.
2) Reality TV and Celebrity Gossip
I have to admit, with the exception of a few talent-based competitions, I do not interact with the world of reality TV. I am pretty much alone in that when it comes to my team at work. Remember from above that they are parents, which means their life has this regularity that yours has yet to truly set down. This means that every night has a collection of programming that they must participate in. Currently my coworkers keep talking about Big Brother, which I have never watched. They keep throwing out words like “Head of Household” and “won last weeks challenge,” so using my very basic information I’m assuming this is some sort of 1984 tax form competition.
It seems that girls have an advantage in this area. The Bachelor and The Bachelorette are common conversation fodder, as well as American Idol.
As far as Celebrity Gossip goes, I’m inept. Yesterday, I was asked what I thought of Jesse James getting remarried and I simply replied that I thought the famed outlaw of the mid-1800s had died ages ago, not the guy who dressed up as a Nazi on Halloween or whatever. I wouldn’t dare tell you to do your research on celebrity gossip, just power through. Perhaps if you continue to make them feel stupid for talking to you about it they will drop the subject, but don’t hold out hope.
Where women have the advantage in the reality TV genre, men have sports. Fantasy teams are always a point of discussion here and it’s wise to participate just for the excuse to talk about something other than kids and reality TV. I’m thankful that I have a pal who works next to me who loves to talk sports, but there is one challenge. Unlike many of us with fewer life responsibilities, most of your coworkers are having to budget the amount of time they spend around sports because of the kids and the reality TV shows their wife makes them watch, so they tend to only be really informed about the sports teams they follow. If you’re lucky you’ll have a guy like my work buddy who is listening to ESPN Radio and keeping up with all of the daily tidbits.
WARNING: Be careful to mention sports you know people have children playing. One minute you’ll be talking about A-rod, the next you’re discussing your coworkers 11-year old playing softball.
In college, your version of news was whatever was trending on Twitter, but the truth is there are countless television, radio and internet sources for news that doesn’t interest the rest of your college-aged pals. My company sends at least three emails a day that are automated aggregations of news concerning our company, but that is only one talking point. Countless major military actions, business activities and local occurrences are happening all around you.
The difference between not knowing about the news as compared to the other topics is that you will functionally look stupid for not knowing. If you don’t know about kids, reality tv or even sports you can excuse that by discussing how you go and interact with other human beings in social settings with walls that reach the ceiling, but with the news, well you should know about it. I highly recommend taking about 15 minutes every morning and hopping on a news aggregation website and catching the headlines. Just enough so that you don’t sound like a complete doof when someone asks you what you thought of the president’s speech last night, which you missed because you were watching sports or reality tv on your DVR.
5) The Date and Time
At some point, you will find yourself hearing conversations about time. Not a conceptual discussion, but a dry, meaningless discussion of your location relative to the nearest weekend and/or holiday. This also includes: a Monday discussion of what you did the previous weekend, a discussion of how “humpday” means we’re halfway to the next weekend, and a Thursday/Friday discussion of what you’re doing with the coming weekend. Odds are these discussions will simply act as a bridge between conversations of kids, reality TV, sports and news. but be warned, they can also cause and be caused by the final and worst topic.
6) The Weather
This is the bottom rung of workplace conversation. When there is nothing else to say, and you’ve covered all of the updates on kids, reality tv, sports, the news and the date, you land in the discussion of weather. It’s inevitable that you have some idea about the weather, you caught a glimpse on your way in and way out of the office. You may not have seen the sun, but if there were no stars, you know it was cloudy.
This topic is the conversational equivalent of the one shirt you have left that is still on the hanger. You are almost willing to reuse one of the them that has already been given some use rather than fall in talking about this. There are essentially three spectra to this conversation: 1) hot, just right, cold; 2) sunny, cloudy, rainy; 3) desirable, ineffectual, undesirable. (the third category is basically informed by how much we have had of the other two categories).
Example: It is just right, rainy and (because it has been hot and sunny for a week) it is desirable.
Coworker: “Man it sure was raining when I came in today.”
Me: “Yeah, we sure did need it though.”
Coworker: “Yeah… it was pretty dry for a while.”
You could bring up what you saw on the weather app or heard on your commute… but why bother? It will only make the conversation last longer. Please let someone bring up Miley Cyrus again.