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5 Things You Should Never Say to a Coworker

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If you’re lucky enough to spend the day surrounded by coworkers you consider close friends, count your blessings. Not everyone has the good fortune to work side by side with those they connect with on the deepest personal level.

For most of us, coworker relationships are pleasant, friendly and warm—but you’re still bound by the rules of professionalism and respectful distance.

 It’s always a good idea—but not always easy—to recognize the line between a true friendship and a working friendship. Respecting this line means maintaining control over how much you share and disclose in the office. It also means you allow coworkers to choose their own level of disclosure when they decide to share with you.

With this in mind, avoid these subjects that stray a little too close to the edge of inappropriate. Try to remove statements like these from your workplace conversations:

1. “So, when will you be moving in together/buying a house/having a second baby?”

Warmly congratulate coworkers on their personal milestones. But while you show interest, be careful with your follow-up questions. Don’t probe. No matter how friendly your intentions may be, if they aren’t welcome, they’ll come off as judgmental and nosy.

2. “That’s nothing. My story is much worse…”

Don’t be a “topper,” especially not at work. If someone shares the details of a liver surgery or a nephew’s car accident, just listen. Show interest with questions that respect the established level of disclosure.

If you feel your own story might help her or shed light on their situation, feel free to tell it. But if you’re just trying to keep the attention focused on yourself, don’t.

3. “Did you hear about the drama between so-and-so and so-and-so?”

A little gossip in the workplace can provide a pressure release, a way for coworkers to bond and a way for newer employees to feel included. But healthy gossip becomes toxic when it involves criticizing someone for behaviors that 1) don’t hurt anyone else, 2) can’t be controlled or 3) may be the result of circumstances the gossiping parties don’t understand.

Snarking about a tyrannical boss is one thing. Snarking about a defenseless, absent coworker who may be facing unknown personal challenges is quite another.

4. “Sometimes I feel hopeless/unhappy/overwhelmed.”

Just as you respect the disclosure levels of others, show the same respect for your own. Don’t reveal anything that may invite judgment or open you up to attack. Just because you work here doesn’t mean you’re obligated to trust everyone around you.

Among friends and family, it’s wise to open up and let those who love you find ways to help you. But at work, this just isn’t the case. In fact, if those around you see your difficulties as a threat to the company and feel forced to choose between one or the other, they’re likely to act on behalf of the company, not you. It sounds cruel, but it happens all the time.

5.  “I know more than you/am better at my job than you/am a more valuable employee than you are.”

You can say this a thousand different ways, and all of them are unwelcome in the workplace. At the very heart of being a jerk lies a desire to dominate, upstage or gain power over others. If you’re really set on doing this, and the reward (dominance) is worth the risk (losing respect, social capital, allies and friends), then go ahead. But as soon as those around you recognize the game you’re playing, it’s over. And you’ve lost.

There’s a smarter way to gain influence and rally others behind you: lift them up. Ironically, the more you give praise, share credit, shine the spotlight on others and raise others above yourself, the faster you’ll rise.

Jenny Treanor is a career advisor and job search expert whose articles appear regularly on www.livecareer.com. Check them out at www.facebook.com/Livecareer or on Google+ for advice and tips on all things career- and resume-related.

Brazen powers real-time, online events for leading organizations around the world. Our lifestyle and career blog, Brazen Life, offers fun and edgy ideas for ambitious professionals navigating the changing world of work.

  • Sebastian Daniels

    Great article for if you work in an office. I interned at a talent agency and it was disturbing how two-faced they were to clients.

    If you work at a bar throw most of these out the window. At least for the bar I work at.

    http://www.findingonespath.blogspot.com

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  • Kimi

    I totally agree with all of this. Ultimately, you are at work to do your job. No need to get caught up in the drama or start some. Your reputation should only be that you come to work and get your work done.

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  • mizzmax19

    I’ve always kept those boundaries in the workplace and never had problems with co-workworkers. Management is a different story.

    • MrNguyen

  • Roxanne

    6. I would like to add to not tell your employer or your coworkers that you are in the hospital. Tell them you have a family emergency. If they view you as sick, they will think of ways to replace you with a healthier person. Coworkers are not your friends. They often are your worst enemies.

    7. If you are in a hostile work environment, and if you are working for attorney, don’t bother going to a teacher in your program of study, or an attorney in the county that you work/resideor even those at your school or work, because they are big on the cover up game. Got to Fair Housing and Employment and report it other wise the good old boys club will black list you.

    8. If someone you know at work is sleeping with the boss but on the other hand doing devious things such as trying to sell their collections of this or that, and even try to bring the crap to you at your private residence, call the police. Sex retards most men and they would sooner believe the liar/robber they are sleeping with than some honest employee who is trying to clue them in.
    9. If your boss is handicapped, and his foreign or domestic caregivers are trying to put themselves on the boss’s will and begging you to do it when your employer is in a coma in the hospital, tell them it is against the law for caregivers in most states to inherit squat. That this is considered elder financial abuse. Also having sex with the boss who is handicapped and the fact that they are being paid by the state is also abuse and unlawful. You will not be popular and you should start looking for a job ASAP to get away from such a creepy situation..