General Question

hug_of_war's avatar

What do you say when a co-worker wants to talk about uncomfortable topics?

Asked by hug_of_war (9852 points ) January 10th, 2014 from iPhone

I work in a team of five. Person A is obsessed with talking about her weight loss. Person B is overweight and has some medical issues relating to it, and other unrelated, serious conditions. B was absent today and A kept talking to C and me about how B would feel so much better if she lost x number of pounds. I am really not okay with talking about how my coworkers need to lose weight, except if you already are close and talk to them privately. I’m not going to tell my coworkers how to live their lives and I’m really not going to talk to other coworkers about how overweight someone is.

I can’t ignore A because we work a lot of hours together and they are my supervisor. How do you redirect a conversation in a professional way?

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28 Answers

tom_g's avatar

“I don’t feel comfortable talking about B.”

livelaughlove21's avatar

“If you don’t mind, I’d really rather not talk about co-workers behind their backs. I’m sure you mean well, but I don’t feel comfortable with this discussion.”

^ Wow, that sounds super nice coming from me, but in an office environment where you work closely with these people, I’d err on the side of being cordial instead of unnecessarily burning bridges or causing problems. You don’t want her to get defensive about it; you just want the conversation to end. I’d probably just ignore it until she got the hint that I wasn’t interested in discussing it.

Seek's avatar

“I’m too busy for your obnoxious babbling. Gossip elsewhere”.

Don’t take my advice. This is exactly the kind of situation that is the reason I have pledged to never set foot in an office environment again.

dxs's avatar

You’re right about not telling people how to live lives. I wouldn’t talk about it behind their back. So I’d say something like this:
“Whatever. I’m not going to tell my coworkers how to live their lives. I don’t care to talk about this.”
I’m sure if it is something detrimental then talking about it with someone else behind B’s back won’t accomplish anything.

Pachy's avatar

Looking back over my career, I now realize that as a co-worker and even more as a manager I was far too open to talking about topics I shouldn’t have, often with unforeseen, unpleasant consequences. I think it was a symptom of my old insecurity about not being a part of the gang.

Dutchess_III's avatar

Make your responses short and non-commital. Dont ask any questions. If there is no interest they’ll stop talking about it.

Bill_Lumbergh's avatar

I would kindly let them know their desk is moving downstairs into storage.

dougiedawg's avatar

You can excuse yourself from the conversation by stating that you need to attend to your hemorrhoid situation…

Dutchess_III's avatar

@Bill_Lumbergh the OP said they are her supervisors.

Coloma's avatar

I’d just say, “I’d prefer to not discuss other peoples personal issues.”
I HATE gossip, refuse to participate and have no problem expressing my sentiments if necessary.
Infact, I make a mission statement to new co-workers, bosses etc. letting them know I want no part of any gossip in the workplace. Ya gotta set your boundaries right away and up front.

longgone's avatar

Does A know B’s weight is related to her medical issues?

janbb's avatar

“I’m not comfortable talking about this” – and end it there.

jca's avatar

Since this person is your supervisor, you can’t be curt or snotty, you have to err on the side of diplomacy. I would say something vague, like “you know, weight is something that some people will struggle their whole lives with. It’s easy to put on and hard to take off.” I would then change the subject.

syz's avatar

“I don’t feel comfortable talking about coworkers when they’re not present – I’m sure you understand. Thanks.”

Skaggfacemutt's avatar

@Coloma ‘s suggestion would definitely stop her in her tracks. I don’t know if I would be that brave. I would probably do more like @Dutchess_III suggested. Not answer, change subject, be too busy to talk, answer with a “maybe so” and leave it at that.

glacial's avatar

I would say that I’m not comfortable talking about other co-workers behind their backs. Oh wait, I have said that, on multiple such occasions. Sometimes, the result is that those people distanced themselves from me. But usually they’d come back. All they really want is someone to talk to.

jca's avatar

You all have to remember that the person doing the gossiping is the supervisor. Therefore, the utmost tact is required.

Gabby101's avatar

I would say that I agree that most people would feel better if they lost weight, but it’s something that everyone has to decide to do for themselves and it’s not easy for a lot of people.

It’s your supervisor, so I wouldn’t say that “I fell uncomfortable talking about others when they’re not here.” If you say that, then s/he will be offended because you are implying (rightly so) that they are ok with talking about someone behind her back. Even if it was not my supervisor, I wouldn’t alienate a co-worker with a balls-in-your-face statement about talking about people behind their backs. If you don’t show a lot of interest in the subject or add too much, they will move on to a topic that generates a more robust conversation.

VS's avatar

If you can, try to direct the conversation back to A. People generally like to talk about themselves more than about others. I would say something like “A, you know first hand what a struggle weight loss can be. Is there any other area that you have had a real struggle with in your life?” Or if you are just tired of A altogether, maybe excuse yourself with something like “oh, i’ve trying a new diet and i think my stomach is a little upset, excuse me please” and run off to the restroom. People like that can be hard to deal with. I work in an office with several other women, two of whom are constantly feuding and want to discuss each other with me. I usually just say, ‘bless it and put it out there in the Universe…karma will take care of the rest”. If that doesn’t cut them off, I start sprouting some crap about people’s passive aggressive nature and the need for me to remember to take my meds.

katie129's avatar

Simply telling someone that topic is none of our business often shocks them into shutting up

Dutchess_III's avatar

@katie129 The person doing the gossiping is her supervisor. Don’t want to shock your boss into shutting up. Boss could shut you out.

jca's avatar

@Dutchess: I stated (reiterated) that but most people keep overlooking it. No matter what people’s opinions are on this gossip, they’re out of their minds if they think they can be curt and rude to the supervisor.

glacial's avatar

@jca I don’t equate being honest with being curt or rude. I would have no trouble telling a supervisor that I’m not comfortable talking behind a co-worker’s back. And if the supervisor has a problem with that, we were never a good fit anyway. If the office environment is so toxic that the OP can’t express this for fear of souring her working relationship or losing her job, it’s already time to look for a new one.

jca's avatar

@glacial: some of the wording above was a bit curt, and I think honesty is great but tact is paramount. It’s easy to say someone shiuld get another job, but in today’s job market, there are many more applicants than there are job openings.

Dutchess_III's avatar

@glacial The question isn’t whether YOU have a problem with being “honest.” It’s whether your boss has a problem with people being honest. In my experience, most of them do.

snowberry's avatar

@Dutchess_III @jca Unfortunate, but true!

Community_watchdog's avatar

The best thing to do is ignore them, sometimes silence can be worth 1000 words.

wuad2015's avatar

Change the subject

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