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8 Entrepreneurs Discuss How to Handle Taboo Topics in Business

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It used to be an unwritten rule that you don’t discuss certain topics in business. Those were generally politics, religion and sexual orientation. While there might have been other topics for specific industries, those were usually the topics that shouldn’t be discussed at any time. We decided to ask some entrepreneurs and business owners what they thought were the taboo topics in their industries and what the best way was to handle when those discussions arise.

#1 – Mental Health

Image Credit: Jake Tully

In my realm of businesses – the commercial truck driving industry – one of the biggest topics that seems taboo is mental health. Very few sources or outlets in my industry address this topic, and any information regarding this issue rarely goes beyond a cursory remark that some people may be afflicted with mental illness or are facing mental health issues. It seems that, overall, more people are beginning to approach covering this topic in a more constructive manner. However, the gap in which this topic is being covered from industry to industry is quite noticeable, especially when the industries that do not cover the topic of mental health have many people who deal with mental afflictions working within it.

Thanks to  Jake Tully, TruckDrivingJobs.com!

#2 – Discussing Sex & Religion Would Be Safer Than Politics

Historically politics had some taboo nature in the office, but it has become a whole new issue in the wake of the discussion leading up to and after the most recent election. My writers keep politics out of their work as a general rule. It’s safer that way. While half the population voted for each side, the loudest voices in offices have been from one side of the aisle, creating a rift that makes it somewhat dangerous to have differing opinions. At this point a conversation revolving around sex and religion would be safer than choosing an alternate political opinion in many offices across the country.

Thanks to Michael Barry, SMBReviews!

#3 – Two Facebook Accounts

Image Credit: Angela Hill

Politics and religion are absolutely a non-starter for a business relationship. These days, I see many professionals creating two Facebook accounts – 1. where they can show their humanity and values (that colleagues and clients see) and 2. where they express how they truly feel as it relates to religion, politics, and other taboo topics. I find it fascinating that these entrepreneurs are living a double life because Facebook has become so entwined with our personal and professional lives that we cannot extricate one from the other! For my personal Facebook page, I have chosen to focus on my daily life, family, friends, and professional success. To the best of my ability, I try to find positive articles and videos to share as that is authentic to who I am. And, I choose to leave the more upsetting/confrontational topics for real life conversations. Life’s too short. Focus on what’s important! Everything else will sort itself out in the end.

Thanks to Angela Hill, Incitrio!

#4 – How to Handle Political Discussions

Image Credit: Michael Steinitz

Accountemps ran a survey that shows more than half (56 percent) of respondents believe these types of discussions can get heated and offend others. The survey found that more women shy away from discussing politics at work, and younger workers (ages 18 – 34) are most likely to discuss politics at work. Here’s some tips on how to handle those discussions(1) Politics is an emotionally charged topic and can be separating. Political discussions at work can expose differences about issues irrelevant to the work at hand, yet are nonetheless disruptive. Heated discussions can hinder collaboration in the future. (2) Think before you speak. Diving head-first into a political discussion can have consequences. If you sense the conversation is getting heated, bow out gracefully. (3) Given the recent change in administration, many people are divided about various issues and, as a result, the temptation to discuss politics at work is stronger. Tread carefully when discussing issues to avoid offending someone. (4) Don’t feel pressured into sharing your views. If you want to, politely excuse yourself by saying with a smile: Sorry, I’m staying out of this one.

Thanks to Michael Steinitz, Accountemps!

#5 – Very Open About Most Topics

Image Credit: Scott D. Nazareth

I have worked in the insurance and real estate industry for the past 8 years. In starting Loanerr.Ca and hiring non-sales oriented employees – this question was often reflected upon at the end of the shift. We have an open-concept office, so conversation volume carries throughout the office. My philosophy on taboo work topics are only limited to sexual orientation. I think in Canada we have a very welcoming and accommodating culture – however, I have noticed that slang terms related to sexual orientation, like that’s gay or Don’t be a fa* can be meant passively be taken very negatively. For religion, politics, and race, we very openly discuss these things as we have a very inclusive atmosphere – and often times bigots/racists do not like to discuss their beliefs, only enforce them.

Thanks to Scott D. Nazareth, Loanerr.ca!

#6 – Failure Has a Taboo

Failure still has a negative connotation to it and many people in the workplace find it taboo to even acknowledge and talk about failure with their colleagues, especially their supervisors. Failure does not have to be a dirty word, and in fact, it is time we celebrate the f word! In a recent study we conducted, we found making failure an expected part of doing business can actually improve a company’s results, as well as encourage creativity and even build confidence in employees. Why? Because failure happens when people try to innovate and grow. People don’t like to fail, or even discuss failure, but when organizations reframe how workers process failure – seeing it as a part of growth- it can translate into benefits for employees, the business as a whole, and stakeholders. It is time we realize we need to fail to succeed.

Thanks to Catherine Tinsley and Jason Schloetzer, Georgetown University McDonough School of Business and Matthew A. Cronin, George Mason University School of Business!

#7 – Nothing Good Comes Out of Talking About Politics

Image Credit: AJ Saleem

The major taboo topic that has been growing recently was politics. Politics is a contentious topic because the election has been extremely close and both candidates had completely different campaigns and ideas. I like to say, nothing good comes out of talking about politics.

Thanks to AJ Saleem, Suprex Tutors Houston!

#8 – Depends on Workplace Microculture

What is and what is not taboo will depend greatly on the microculture of the workplace, as I like to call it, but I prefer to opt out of discussions about religion and politics on the grounds that it has become a very polarizing issue, especially now. Although there is no way to kill off that murmur (and attempting to do so is also a political statement in itself), I try to steer away the conversation from those areas and never pose direct questions on those grounds. Also, out of personal decency, I would advise against asking around someone’s salary or future career ambitions. I find it especially important to make sure that people do not spread rumors on these topics as well since they may affect someone’s career/position negatively.

Thanks to Alex Bar, Rosh Metal Ltd.!

What do you think are Taboo Topics in Business & How Do you Handle Them?

About Gresham Harkless Jr.

Profile photo of Gresham Harkless Jr.
Gresham Harkless is a Media Consultant for Blue 16 Media and the Blogger-in-Chief for CEO Blog Nation. CEO Blog Nation is a community of blogs for entrepreneurs and business owners. Started in much the same way as most small businesses, CEO Blog Nation captures the essence of entrepreneurship by allowing entrepreneurs and business owners to have a voice. CEO Blog Nation provides news, information, events and even startup business tips for entrepreneurs, startups and business owners to succeed.
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