- Having friends at work can make you more productive.
- A 2019 article found positive work gossip can lead to friendships and warn others of bad managers.
- But gossiping and being too comfortable at work can backfire.
While making work friends can be awkward, one way to break the ice is to start complaining.
Complaining about work tasks means you trust the other person not to spill your secrets, and can lead to closer friendships down the line, according to The Cut. One researcher calls productive work gossip “pro-social,” or gossip that can lead to warning your peers about difficult managers or other information that results in more productive work.
Some experts, however, warn against getting too chummy with your coworker. While some lighthearted gossiping can be positive, there are certain phrases or conversations that can make you sound unprofessional (and even harassing).
“In conversation, use a little common sense and discretion, especially when there are others present,” says Rosalinda Oropeza Randall, an etiquette and civility expert and the author of “Don’t Burp in the Boardroom.” “The general guideline is that if you wouldn’t say it in front of your boss, don’t say it.”
Aside from the obvious – like profanity and insults – here are some words and phrases you should never utter to your coworkers.
Don’t ask to borrow money
Most of us have forgotten to bring cash or our wallet to work once or twice. Randall says that in this rare occasion, it might be OK to ask your understanding coworker to borrow some money for lunch.
“But if your wallet is always in your ‘other purse,’ don’t be surprised if you’re excluded from future lunches,” she says.
Stop using the phrase ‘honestly’
Barbara Pachter, an etiquette expert and author of “The Essentials of Business Etiquette,” says that drawing attention to your honesty at that moment can lead people to wonder, “Aren’t you always honest with me?”
Don’t spread rumors
“Negative comments about a coworker to another coworker will make you look worse than the person you’re talking about, and guess who will be the one who looks bad when it gets back to the person you’re talking about?” Randall says.
Don’t tell your coworker you like the way her pants fit on her
Be selective about what you compliment.
Commenting about a coworker’s physical appearance is considered unprofessional, Randall says – and worse, could be sexual harassment.
Don’t tell a coworker, ‘You people are always causing problems’
Topics like religion, politics, and child-rearing sometimes come up in the workplace, Randall says. But to negatively comment about any group is unwise and unprofessional, and it could get you in trouble for harassment.
Never ask a coworker if she’s pregnant
This question rarely results in a positive outcome.
“If your coworker is not pregnant, you have insulted her,” Oliver says. “If she is pregnant, she probably isn’t ready to discuss it yet. Keep observations like this to yourself.”
Don’t say, ‘I’m sorry to be a bother’
“Why are you saying you’re a bother?” Pachter asks.
And if you are truly sorry about something you haven’t done yet, why would you go ahead and do it anyway?
“Excuse me. Do you have a moment?” works much better, she says.
Don’t tell your coworkers you are looking for another job, or ask if they know who’s hiring
“Sharing this with your coworkers may cause them to instinctively distance themselves, knowing you will no longer be a part of the team,” Randall says.
“They also might unintentionally leak the information to your supervisor, which could explain your lack of productivity and absences, resulting in a poor reference or an invitation to pick up your paycheck earlier than you expected,” she says.
Don’t say: ‘See this rash? I’m expecting the lab results tomorrow.’
“Except for maybe your mom or spouse, no one really wants to see or hear about peculiar rashes or any nausea-inducing medical conditions,” Randall says. “Limit your sharing to a cold or headache.”
Try not to start all of your sentences with ‘I think’
Saying “I think” is sometimes acceptable, but only if you truly are unsure.
“Using ‘I think’ can make you appear wishy-washy,” Pachter says. When you know something, state it directly: “The meeting will be at 3 pm.”
Don’t tell a coworker you were surprised when she was asked to present
You might as well say, “It should have been me.”
“The professional response would be, ‘Congratulations,'” Randall says.
Don’t say: ‘Do you mind covering for me while I’m in Bora Bora?’
Flaunting your luxurious lifestyle with your colleagues may set off a jealousy epidemic, Oliver says. In general, it’s best to avoid bragging about how great your life is.
Don’t ask your coworker if you’re invited to a party you overheard him talk about
“This is the grown-up world – not everyone will be invited to everything,” Randall says. “Besides, are you prepared for the answer?”
Don’t tell your coworkers you’re stealing office supplies
You just admitted to stealing, a cause for termination and, at the very least, loss of trust, Randall says.
Don’t bring up personal relationship issues
“Intimate details about your personal relationships can divulge unfavorable information about you,” Randall says.
Sharing intimate details about your love life falls into the “too much information” category, she says, and “if it doesn’t enhance your professional image, or enrich workplace relationships, you should keep it to yourself.”
Don’t call your coworker a “credit snatcher”
Maybe your colleague or boss took credit for your work, but carping about the problem to your coworkers rarely helps, Oliver says. Instead, it’s best to address the issue with the person who took credit for your idea.
Don’t ask your coworkers how old they are
Don’t comment on your coworkers hair or ask to touch it
Commenting on a coworker’s hair or asking to touch it isn’t just inappropriate, it could be considered harassment or a racist microaggression.
Don’t tell your coworkers you’re suing the company
“Whether the charge is legitimate or not, spreading it around will not serve you well – just ask your attorney,” Randall says.
If you’re really suing your employer, it’s best to conduct yourself with discretion and dignity and continue to perform your duties to the best of your ability. If this becomes impossible, you should consider resigning, Randall says.
“But if this is your go-to threat when you’re unhappy about something, stop it,” she says.
Rachel Gillett contributed to an earlier version of this article.