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Business Etiquette: How To Navigate ‘Family Talk’ At The Office

By Stephanie Lema

We spend so much time in the office that it’s easy to develop friendships with your co-workers. A solid relationship with a fellow employee makes collaborating on projects even more enjoyable. Gossip, chat and a good vent about work or home comes with the territory.

When you are talking about your family at work, how do you know if you are sharing too much or if the topic is inappropriate? The following tips will help you assess your work environment and determine appropriate “family talk” at the office.

Business etiquette

  • Know Your Audience

As you work with people for a long period of time, you will learn along the way that certain topics around family moments are not appropriate for the office. For example, a detailed story about potty training may not be a favored one among co-workers.

It’s most likely humorous to you as the parent but a fellow employee may not want to hear about your son’s potty training adventures. If asked how the kids are doing, do share but give the co-workers an edited version of a story if necessary.

Don’t forget, as you learn your audience at work to share at a minimum. You never know what may offend someone in the workplace.

  • Some Words Are Best Left Outside Of The Office

– Projectile. Any sentence that includes the word “projectile” does not make for a pretty story!
– Vomiting. Ditto to the thought noted above.
– Diarrhea. Enough said.

  • Share With Caution

A good story about the kids is fun to tell. You are a mom or dad and proud of it but be careful about how much you tell. As you get settled into a meeting, small talk is common just don’t delay the start of it because you’re telling a story about your daughter’s ballet recital.

If you are new to an office or company, share cautiously until you get to know your co-workers. You may find yourself in an environment full of working moms and can enjoy a good conversation about your baby’s first steps. On the flip side of that, you may learn family moments are not always welcome.

  • Read Your Audience

Are you in an environment with very few parents? Your manager or co-workers may still ask about your family and you jump at the chance to tell them the latest. Your experiences and stories about your little ones are in no shortage.

Just remember, the blank look on a face or silence when you should hear laughter is probably an indication you need to wrap it up. If you can easily read their faces and they are showing you “family talk” should come to an end, round out the ending of your story and move to the business at hand.

Even in an environment with many parents, the non-verbal communication you see while you are telling your story can often provide a clear sign when it’s time to turn to a work topic. If you read your audience’s cues, it will help you navigate the “family talk” waters while at the office.

  • Keep It Positive!

Don’t take it personally. That may be a tough sentiment to accept because even in business, you can feel things on a personal level. Keep in mind that a co-worker may have limited interest in your family stories. That is OK and not a reflection on you or your family.

And remember, your office is filled with a cast of characters (including you) that was brought together for one common reason. Business.

You can always save all the fun, detailed stories for your friends and family outside of the office!

Stephanie Lema is the founder and author of Be Positive Mom, a site dedicated to providing resources for working moms and tips on how to incorporate positive living into the daily routine. A full-time working mom of two in Silicon Valley, Stephanie was inspired by the stories of other working moms and launched The Working Mom Interviews in late 2010. This series features working moms and important work/family life topics each month. Visit Stephanie at to learn more about how to juggle it all with a positive twist.

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