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6 Networking Conversation Topics to Avoid
If you’ve ever found yourself at a corporate networking event having an awkward conversation, we feel your pain. Not everyone manages to crush it when it comes to making smalltalk. Even worse, sometimes not being able to talk the talk will cost you in connections, follow-up leads and ROI. We can’t teach you how to become a small talk superstar in one blog, but we can steer you in the right direction if you’re finding yourself rudderless in polite conversation more often than not. To that point, there are a few taboo topics that can create tension so thick, not even an open bar can cut through it. Here’s a list of the most important things to not discuss at your next cocktail party or event.
Ask anyone who goes home for the holidays how well talking politics frankly works out for them. With the political climate the way it is, chances are good that no one is chomping at the bit to discuss the nuances of the world’s geopolitical situation while at a cocktail reception or seated dinner. When it comes to politics, you’re better off not bringing it up at all if your goal is to network with colleagues and clients. If you wanted to mix politics and alcohol, you would have been a politician. Keep your hot political takes in the kettle for your friends and personal social media—trust us.
Second verse, same as the first. Not everyone who’s spiritual or religious enjoys talking about it in public, and that’s all right. If you’re not on close personal terms with everyone at your mixer or reception—and let’s be honest, there’s no way that’s the case—you’re better off not bringing it up at all. You’re there to make professional connections, not pretend you’re back in your 100 level religious studies course at DePaul. People’s beliefs can be one of the most important aspects of their lives, but chatting casually about spirituality and religion in a professional setting can be the kiss of death, conversation-wise. Religious disagreements can tear apart entire nations, so you can be sure they’re going to ruin a cocktail party.
3. Personal Finances
You probably don’t need us telling you this, but money can be a weird and touchy subject. You probably shouldn’t discuss finances outside of your close friends and family, and you definitely shouldn’t make a habit of asking your colleagues or potential connections how much they make. Everyone’s relationship to their money is different, and being nosy or assuming a level of familiarity with a potential client or collaborator can really suck the air out of the room, so you’re best not bringing it up. Ditto for letting people know how well things are going for you. Just get a nice bonus or a big raise? Congrats, but keep it to yourself—no one wants to think their potential partner is only fixated on money.
The line between friendly and friend can be tricky, especially if you’re in marketing or sales and spending a lot of your time making clients both new and returning comfortable with you. Regardless, you’re not going to want to bring up health at a networking event. We can promise you that talking at length about your diet and exercise regimen isn’t the scintillating conversation you think it is, and you risk coming across as boorish or self-absorbed when you talk about it. Ditto for discussing the health of a family member—talking about health issues can make people uncomfortable, and many won’t know how to respond if you bring them up. Regardless of how close you are to a client, remember that your relationship to them is professional, not personal, and they may not be interested or comfortable Save the health issues for the next time you catch up with your friends.
5. Family and relationship issues
Is something a good conversation for a professional setting? Here’s a good rule of thumb: if your barber or mailman bringing it up to you would make you feel uncomfortable, it’s probably not a great professional conversation to have. Getting asked about your significant other, children or family members is part of networking, but if your answer is going to require more nuance than telling a short anecdote about your daughter’s play or a family vacation, discretion will be the better part of conversational valor. Mingling with clients isn’t a great time to talk about family matters—don’t be the oversharer at the cocktail hour.
If there’s one irredeemably toxic topic of conversation, it’s definitely office gossip. No matter who you’re talking to and how trustworthy you think they are, talking about rumors in a professional setting will never end well. Keep the no-drama filter on for the duration of your event at bare minimum. Almost everyone has a horror story about a time a flippant comment came back to bite them, so don’t even think about spreading rumors and gossip where you’re trying to network.
The point of hosting a corporate event is to get to know colleagues and clients on a professional level. Steering clear of these topics but still engaging in conversation is a recipe for networking success!
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