Tree Talk: HR Corner: Managing Appropriate Work Conversations


We have all experienced one time or another walking into a place of business and having to interrupt what seems like a personal conversation to ask for assistance or to simply check out. When this happens we walk away feeling like we weren’t welcome at that establishment, that customer service was lacking and maybe even a little guilty for perhaps being “rude” because we just interrupted others engaged in a dialog. The truth of the matter is that the customer should never have to walk away from a business feeling this way.


There is a time and place for everything, and conversations between employees while at work need to remain professional and appropriate at all times. The responsibility to monitor such things falls on higher-level personnel. The conversations and style of speaking employees engage in among friends outside of the workplace isn’t always suitable for the work environment. Set clear expectations of what is allowed to be discussed and what is not allowed to be discussed among co-workers and during work hours. Three well-known personal topics that should be avoided at work are sex, politics and religion. The reason to avoid these topics is that many people have such strong beliefs and refuse to consider alternative opinions, therefore often leading to heated arguments or alienation between co-workers; they can also offend patrons that overhear them. Let all of your staff know that these three hot topic buttons are off limits.

Discussing your personal life at work can help to build relationships with co-workers, but there are barriers to this topic as well. Family, leisure and weekend activities are part of our lives, and talking about them helps to connect with people and is a great relationship-building skill, but be wary of letting anyone discuss excessive private details of their life outside of work. If someone does begin to share too many details, ask to speak with them privately and let that person know the boundaries that you have set in place for your establishment.

Another conversation that shouldn’t be tolerated is gossip. Nearly all work places fall victim to the spread of gossip, but unaddressed gossip can be like poison among co-workers. Managers need to stop the spreading of gossip immediately. If gossip concerns someone’s work, you may need to address it by finding out the truth. Managers should confront the speaker directly about the gossip and ask that the spreading of such things stop or disciplinary action will have to be taken. Direct confrontation can be uncomfortable but beneficial for all when done correctly. Removing unwanted conversations is the ultimate goal, and, stopping these types of situations from carrying on lets others know that they aren’t welcome at work. Have a strict no-gossip policy in place and stick to it.

One of the most important rules to remember for any type of business, especially those in customer service who deal with the general population on a regular basis, is never to assume that customers aren’t listening to what your employees are discussing or chatting about. Customers can be very aware of what is being openly discussed behind the counter and allowing your employees to discuss topics that could be harmful to the business is a huge no-no. Always make sure whatever topic is being discussed openly is appropriate and reflective of your business. It’s imperative that a personal conversation amongst employees does not offend or ward off customers.

Be sure to set clear rules for when talking can and should take place. As a general rule of thumb, stopping the conversations while customers are checking out or asking questions goes a long way. Your customers should always feel welcome and your staff should always seem ready and available to help – not engage with one another. Remember, good customer service results in consumer satisfaction, which contributes to return customers and ultimate growth in business.

Overall, once you set precedents of what is and what isn’t allowed to be discussed among co-workers, you’ll be able to better control the environment your customers experience when they step into your place of business.