Safe HR Topics for Troubled Times

Laurie Ruettimann Change, Communication, Culture, Good HR, Influence, Laurie Ruettimann, wellness

Unless you’re living in a cave, you are up-to-speed on all the latest problems in the world. From the bombings in Baghdad to gun violence in America, there doesn’t seem to be much good news to celebrate.

What’s happening on TV or the internet is largely depressing. When we’re not being sold a product, we’re being sold an ideology. Or we’re being sold on the notion that other people have ideologies that are offensive and incompatible with modern life.

So what do you talk about with your colleagues when you’re trying to avoid religion and politics?

I have some ideas.

Talk about your kids. There’s a reason why people have children. It’s to distract themselves from the inner pain of their own childhoods. Just kidding, it’s to bring joy to the world. If there’s ever a quiet moment in a conversation, share a warm anecdote about a child. Doesn’t even have to be your kid. For example, my niece is six years old and just cut 7″ off her hair to donate to a charity for children who have cancer. Amazing, right?

Talk about an awkward moment where you’re the fool. My friend, Ita Olsen, is the queen of sparkling party conversations. She makes fun of herself all of the time, and it’s hilarious. She’s not begging for compliments. She tells funny stories that make her seem human. Her actions give others permission to relax and be human, too.

Say nice things about people. When there’s nothing but bad news on TV, it’s great to recognize colleagues and friends who are awesome. Thank someone for stepping up. Tell coworkers how much you appreciate their work. A legitimate and heartfelt compliment can brighten even the darkest room.

Share a warm memory about your parents or grandparents. A few days ago, I was watching the news. Out of nowhere, I remembered that my great-grandmother lived in a mobile home on  the south side of Chicago. I was overwhelmed with memories of playing on astroturf and throwing rocks at my brother (who probably didn’t deserve it). I remember my dad told me not to flush anything down the toilet, which still strikes me as both hilarious and ominous. I shared that memory with my husband, and we laughed. The world felt lighter for a few moments.

When times are tough — and you’re just trying to get through a day at the office without hearing about politics or bad news — try speaking from the heart. Talk about children, make yourself the center of an embarrassing story, compliment your coworkers, and share a personal memory of your family.

Be human. Work human. That’s what connects us all.

Laurie Ruettimann is a writer, speaker, and entrepreneur based in Raleigh, NC. She’s working on her next book about fixing work due out in 2020.