Race to the Top: Skip the Watercooler

Q: What about office “small talk?”pic-popup1

A: Last week, we started to tackle the issue of “politics” at work. The question for this week: what should I do if a delicate topic comes up among colleagues or coworkers?

This is so tricky and if you are not prepared, it could go badly. First off, you have to accept the fact that even though you are at work, people will talk about things that have nothing to do with the job or the company. In some ways, being prepared for the inevitable conversation is half the battle.

Here’s my advice, if you are walking down the hallway, from one meeting to another, and you stop to get a cup of coffee in the employee breakroom, and one of the assistants is talking about politics – keep walking. If you go to a marketing meeting and one of the marketing managers opens it by saying Ivanka Trump is the best thing since sliced bread, ask for a copy of the meeting agenda and shift the focus to an appropriate direction.

Chances are, you don’t report to these people and they don’t report to you – so ignore it. I know: this is not easy. Over the years, my colleagues have told me about so many situations that they just can’t get. And, the situations prompt a bunch of questions: Who are these people? Do they really work here? Are they taunting me?

While everything about these situations is frustrating, I’d still say skip the confrontation. You just don’t know enough to deal with them in a way that you will end up on top.

When I worked on Wall Street, I had a good friend that worked for arguably, the best investment bank in the world. He told me, flatly, that he expected to hear personal comments from his colleagues and clients that would offend him. He was also clear that he didn’t expect to solve the world’s problems at work in “off-handed conversations.” He was ambitious and talented and he believed his voice was bigger in his company when he was successful. He was also clear that when he reached the right rank in the firm, he would make sure that the organization had policies, with real teeth, that would prevent any employee from thinking he or she could openly and even aggressively subject everyone else to non-work related issues.

I’m pleased to report that he did climb the corporate ladder (quickly) and he did make changes at that company, just as he said he would. And, he never, ever compromised his integrity. All the while, he made sure that he was his best self at work. His colleagues respected him and he established a following that enabled him to set a tone that changed the culture and, frankly, made the organization even more successful.

Lilyanne has worked in corporate America for 25 years and has supported eight CEOs.  She wants to answer your career questions – so you can get ahead at work.  Email your questions to Lilyanne@racetothetopcareers.com, rttcareers@gmail.com or at Forward Times,  forwardtimes@forwardtimes.com