Why You Should Talk about 'Game of Thrones' at Work

And, also, why you shouldn't

Apr 02, 2019
Management

SMITH BRAIN TRUST  Winter is … well, soon it will be everywhere. The much-anticipated eighth and final season of “Game of Thrones” premieres on HBO on April 14, returning to screens after an 18-month hiatus.

It’s an exciting time for fans of the show. (And, honestly, by now, who isn’t a fan?) And when important cultural events like this enter the zeitgeist, it’s common that people want to talk about it at work. But should you?

When considering whether or not to engage in “water cooler talk” about "Game of Thrones" – known for its complicated plot twists, and luridly violent and sexual content – you really have to ask yourself two questions: First, should you take work breaks to talk about TV shows at all, and second, should you talk about “Game of Thrones” specifically, says Maryland Smith’s Trevor Foulk.

Taking a few minutes here and there to talk about things like TV shows and to let your brain rest during the workday can be a good thing, says Foulk, an assistant professor of management and organization who studies deviant workplace behaviors, workplace power dynamics, social perception and interpersonal influence behaviors. He points to research that suggests small breaks during your workday can help you recover that little bit of energy and power you through the rest of your day.

While this can be instrumental for you, it takes two to tango, Foulk says, so one thing to consider is whether the person you are talking to is also on a strategically timed work break. If they’re not, you’re just distracting them and your gain might be their loss. This isn’t surprising, he says, and a little common courtesy should help you navigate this pretty easily. What is surprising, says Foulk, is that you might actually boost your own productivity by breaking to recap the latest episode of "Game of Thrones." When you take breaks like this, sometimes your brain engages in something of an “incubation” period, processing ideas at an unconscious level. “The trick here is that this really only happens for things you are intrinsically motivated to work on, or problems you are legitimately motivated to solve,” he says. So if you’re working hard to figure something out, taking a little break can allow your brain a few moments to keep working while you go and do something else – such as breaking down the latest power play in Westeros.

On the other hand, if you’re working on something you’d rather not be doing, taking a break is simply procrastinating, he says. So, get back to work. “You just need to press through.”

If you’re not procrastinating, but taking a productive break to chat with a co-worker about a TV show, Foulk says, you might want to ask yourself whether it’s OK to talk about “Game of Thrones” (or whether you should perhaps focus your conversation on a show that’s a little more benign).

To be sure, "Game of Thrones" covers some topics that we don’t normally discuss at work, he says, but that doesn’t mean it has to be off-limits. Foulk and Zhishuang Guan, a Maryland Smith PhD student, have been studying how, in some contexts, talking about such things can help you build social connections with your co-workers. That’s because doing so can send a signal to your co-workers that you trust them enough to engage in such conversations. In other words, Guan says, it communicates that you’re willing to take a risk and talk about topics that are less-than-appropriate at work with them. However, it can also be risky, because it could suggest to your co-worker that you are someone who violates workplace norms.

Ultimately, he says, remember, the workday can be dark and full of terrors. Use care when choosing whether to discuss “Game of Thrones” at work, how to discuss it and with whom.

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About the Expert(s)

Trevor Foulk

Dr. Trevor Foulk is an Assistant Professor of Management & Organization at the Robert H. Smith School of Business at the University of Maryland. He received his Ph.D. in Organizational Behavior from the Warrington College of Business at the University of Florida, and his Bachelors of Business Administration from the University of Massachusetts.

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