In the workshops I’ve been delivering recently, we’ve had many conversations about boundaries. One boundary I recommend is limiting certain conversations we have at work.

I am the first to admit that I am an open book. I love to have healthy debates and am willing to have many discussions on my off-limits list. But I won’t have them with just anyone, and I typically wouldn’t have them with coworkers.

Having a list of off-topic discussions is smart for many reasons. We need to practice discretion and respect, and some topics are too dangerous to ensure we get both.

You may be like me and enjoy a good debate. You can talk about some things and not take it personally. You may be very good about holding confidences. Most people are not like you and me, and the danger of you having these discussions is not only how it makes others feel, but it potentially hurts your reputation and professionalism and sends the message that you don’t respect and trust others. If you make someone uncomfortable, you’ve entered the “do not discuss” category even if you are not uncomfortable.

Career suicide has happened from people ignoring this list. Be aware when walking into dangerous territory and have your exit from these conversations ready to go!


  1. Politics. I routinely get asked how I feel about US politics, regardless of the country I am in. Everyone has an opinion, and it feels like everyone is willing to discuss their opinion, even though that is not true. Not everyone is willing or able to have a healthy debate about it.

Politics can get personal quickly—not just US politics, but all politics. Any controversial social topics often become political as well, so give them a wide berth as well.

When I am asked about US politics, I give a very vague answer generally, especially with someone I haven’t built a trusted relationship where I’m confident we will be allowed to disagree in a healthy debate. I don’t want someone to judge me because my stance on an issue is very different than theirs. I don’t want to create conflict for something that doesn’t impact how I work. I don’t want politics to interfere with my relationships with others. As much as I am comfortable with everyone having their own opinion and am okay if we disagree, not everyone feels the same. We know that many friendships have been lost over politics. Don’t risk your career or reputation by assuming that others are as understanding as you are.

  1. Personal Finances. Discussing salary is often a sensitive topic, but I’m not going to recommend you avoid those discussions, as I believe transparency is important.

I recommend that you avoid discussing your personal finances, especially your debt. Everyone has a different relationship with money, and although you may be comfortable with your debt, others may judge that you are making bad decisions, not good with money, or other things that also affect your reputation and credibility.

Don’t discuss that you paid your holiday using your credit card because you didn’t have any money saved, that Aunt Mable left you money so you are buying a new car, or that you refinanced the house for whatever reason.

Some people view debt as good financial leverage, and some view it as bad money management. If you are comfortable talking about your debt or your savings, you may find yourself not only making others uncomfortable but also being judged if they have a different relationship with money.

I won’t discuss what I paid for my house, car, or vacation. I may tell you that I bought these shoes for an incredible price and am proud of my purchase. Still, I wouldn’t discuss the price otherwise, especially if they were “expensive” (and everyone has a different degree of the definition of expensive).


  1. Personal Relationships. I used to work with a woman who routinely complained about her live-in boyfriend. Not just the joking kind of complaints we all make when speaking about our partners, but full-on disclosure about their relationship status and everything he did and said to her.

I knew too many details about their relationship and how he treated her. Without knowing him well, I couldn’t like him for how he treated her, and I know I wasn’t the only one (yes, the gossip did kick in here as we all discussed how she could stay with him when he was so emotionally abusive to her).

At one point, they separated, and we were all updated with every painful detail. We all fully supported the decision for them not to stay together. We knew that her life would be better without this man in her life and shared that we felt he was abusive and she was better without him.

She needed this support, and we needed to support her, but we did feel that he was not a healthy partner.

Except not only did they reconcile, but he proposed, and she accepted. We all struggled with being happy for her because we were not. Fortunately, they decided to elope, which saved us the challenge of having to decide if we would go to the wedding or not.

We didn’t need to know this information about them. She did need support when she was struggling, but it was too much information. It did affect how we looked at her judgment. When she would come into the office upset, we started looking for bruises. We knew too much, and it wasn’t good for everyone to know that.

If you are in an unhealthy relationship, you need support and should discuss what you are experiencing. However, you shouldn’t do this with everyone at work and potentially not with anyone at work.

Friends outside of work would be a better choice in situations like this. It’s a boundary that needs to be respected.


  1. Health Issues. I have experiences with the person who shares every cut and bruise with everyone they know (constantly worrying that it is a death sentence). I have had an experience where someone was going through cancer treatment and didn’t share anything until they had results from the first round of treatment and shared very little other than the basics of her cancer.

As a friend and colleague, I want to support you if you aren’t well. But I don’t need to know everything about what you are going through either.

Several years ago, I had a hysterectomy. It wasn’t cancer, but it also wasn’t a walk in the park. I didn’t tell my clients that I had surgery. I didn’t announce it online or in my newsletter. Why? Because people didn’t need to know. It didn’t impact how I worked or what I did professionally.

If my physical or mental health requires me to take time off or impacts the work I do, I should discuss it with my manager. Like finances, everyone approaches their health differently. You will get a variety of opinions, and you will get judgment. You might make someone uncomfortable with your health plan. You never know how others feel, and if it isn’t impacting your ability to do your job, it might be smarter to keep that information to your inner circle only.


  1. Others. As much as you know that office gossip was going to be on the list, we really do need to stop talking about other people when they aren’t there. If they were seated at your table, would you say what you just said when they weren’t?

Office gossip and conversation about others are potentially different. If you share information about someone without personal comment, it might be a safe topic. As soon as you share your thoughts or opinions or make a comment that is less than professional, it switches to office gossip and not conversation.

If I tell you that Jenny is getting married and she isn’t with us during this conversation, I’m potentially gossiping. Is it my news to share? Would I tell you she was getting married if she was at the table with us? If I say we are planning a surprise wedding shower and you are invited, I’m putting in extra information. Still, this is a conversation. If I share that I can’t believe she is marrying that guy as he is a narcist or that this is her third wedding and am hopeful that it works this time, or anything else that is my opinion, I’ve crossed the line into gossip.

For any easy test, ask yourself, “What is the purpose of you sharing this information about this person?” If there is no purpose, or it is just to see how others feel, or you want to share your opinion about this situation, you are gossiping.


  1. Criticizing Your Manager. In many of the workshops I deliver, we discuss the importance of partnerships with our managers/supervisors/executives. We discuss how we must work together and have one another’s back.

Complaining about that person to colleagues is like gossip and dangerous to your reputation and your partnership. It can breed gossip among others, destroy trust, and create a toxic work environment. Public criticism isn’t good.

Although your supervisor may be annoying and do things that frustrate you, sharing your frustration with others in the office is one of the worst things you can do. Someone might slip up and repeat what you said at the next meeting, and other people may overhear you.

If you need to complain, bring it home to your partner, dog, or mother. It looks bad to complain about your boss behind their back and yet pretend you are a great team when they are around. It isn’t supportive. It isn’t professional. Don’t do it, as it makes you look far worse than whatever complaint you have about your supervisor.

Boundaries are needed at work for many reasons. Conversational boundaries protect your reputation and ensure you maintain your professionalism. Show others you respect them by not making them uncomfortable, too.

This article was written by Rhonda and not by AI.




Rhonda Scharf, CSP, HOF, Global Speaking Fellow

Certified Speaking Professional, Hall of Fame

Rhonda Scharf, renowned and award-winning speaker, author, consultant, and trainer, is the “go-to” expert for the Administrative Professional and Executive Assistant community. With over 250,000+ trained across the globe, Rhonda is THE authority for fun and uplifting education for admins, because #ADMINSROCK!


Rhonda Scharf, CSP, HOF, Global Speaking Fellow

Certified Speaking Professional, Hall of Fame

Rhonda Scharf, renowned and award-winning speaker, author, consultant, and trainer, is the “go-to” expert for the Administrative Professional and Executive Assistant community. With over 250,000+ trained across the globe, Rhonda is THE authority for fun and uplifting education for admins, because #ADMINSROCK!