For the News-Democrat
Q. I go to lunch with a couple of my colleagues almost every day, and all they talk about is work, work, work. I get enough of that while I am in the office. I'm not very talkative, but my opinion is usually requested after all the "talkers" get in their 2 cents. In the office, that works for me, but at lunch, I'd rather not get involved. Yet if I don't, I may later be accused of agreeing with them when I don't.
I've brought my lunch a few times and stayed in the office, but that doesn't go over very well. They think I am up to something or trying to impress the boss. I don't like eating at my desk anyway, but I need some tips on how to tactfully stop the shop talk without being rude or obnoxious about it. Your advice, please.
A. Yes, continuous "shop talk" during lunch, is not much of a "lunch break" which is intended to give your brain a chance to relax and clear your mind a bit -- especially if your job is stressful. Along with the nourishment from the food you eat, you are supposed to be refreshed and re-energized when you return to your desk.
Here are several tactful and appropriate options for you to consider:
Start making mental notes about your lunch colleagues regarding their personal interests outside of the office, which you have heard them briefly mention. Then insert yourself into the lunch conversation with an open-ended specific question that is non-work related, but should elicit some interest from a personal perspective. Direct your question at first to a specific person, by name, to be less conspicuous in your attempt to change the subject. Base the question on your memory about that person's away-from-work interests. For example:
"Tom, are you planning another fishing trip for your vacation this year?" Follow up: "How big was that fish you caught last year?"
"John, when are you going to start planting your vegetable garden?" Follow up: "What are you going to plant this year?" "Tim, didn't you say you were going to have a vegetable garden this year?"
For all: "What's this new idea I heard someone talking about in the hardware store line the other day about planting tomato plants inside a bale of old straw?"
"Jim, what do you think about your (team's name) lineup this year? Follow up: "How's their pitching staff this year?"
"Tim, what did you think about that hockey game last night?" Follow up: "What about that goalie?"
If someone realizes you are trying to change the subject and confronts you, this is your opportunity to "fess up" and keep it light by responding: "Yes, I think we need a break from shop talk during lunch. While I take my job and my work very seriously, we all have other interests outside of work that are important to us and fun to share."
The humorous positive approach, while smiling and displaying more energy that you usually exhibit:
"Did you know that all work and no play can make us dull individuals? Let's talk about something else at lunch together besides work. We have all afternoon to talk about work. Besides, I don't want to be on some dull list!" Then start with one of the questions from the previous options.
You may have to be the assertive one for the next couple of lunches to humorously remind your colleagues. Perhaps, your hand up with simply: "No work at lunch" or "We're at lunch, remember?"
Within a week, lunch with your colleagues should become a lot more interesting and relaxed, with even a laugh or two as someone relates a fishing story.
Dianne Isbell is a local contributing writer. Send your etiquette questions to Lifestyle Editor Pat Kuhl, Belleville News-Democrat, P.O. Box 427, 120 S. Illinois St., Belleville, IL 62222-0427.