Have you ever found yourself, trapped in a situation where you told someone at work, something personal or secretive, in confidence. It was then repeated to someone else, ultimately becoming common knowledge across the floor. People rarely learn from their mistakes, and if you have been in this situation before, you have probably been in it, more than once.
Personally, you are not alone, I have confided in colleagues before and have been burned. It is a hard lesson that most people learn within the first few years of working in an office. If you’re lucky you will read this post before starting a new job or be wise beyond your years and avoid the trap entirely. Participating in office gossip or inappropriate conversations is not an area ruled by one gender, culture, race, age group or seniority in the work force. It is prevalent across all groups, and people of different backgrounds. You have more than likely in the past said something without thinking or participated in office gossip by either sharing or listening to others.
People naturally want to connect with others by sharing pieces of information about themselves or more generally others. But a few missteps can lead you into some difficult and possibly career stifling or ending circumstances. Here are some healthy rules to follow:
This is by far the most important rule, always avoid talking to colleagues about other colleagues. One of my managers in my early career, once gave me some advice on writing emails. “If you aren’t comfortable with the entire world, seeing this email, then don’t send it”. The same applies to gossip and conversation, if you’re not comfortable with everyone in the building hearing what you are about to say, then don’t say it.
It goes without saying, that speaking about other people behind their backs is generally poor form. This will almost always lead to damaging friendships and relationships with people who you care about. And other people will likely judge you poorly. Only recently I was out having a drink with a friend, let’s call him Bob. He commented on some unfortunate personal circumstances of our mutual friend, Dave. I was unaware of the situation because Dave and I aren’t that close, however Bob and Dave are good mates. It certainly made me re-think confiding in Bob in the future, and I lost some respect for him.
Don’t be a Bob with your friends, and definitely do not be a Bob at work.
Avoid topics of conversation that might make someone uncomfortable. I imagine this rule is straight out of the HR handbook. Sometimes, what we deem appropriate conversations in life is not appropriate for someone else. Break this rule too many times and you may find yourself in a meeting with human resources or without a job. Some topics to avoid include commenting on physical appearance (others and yourself), health, race, wealth and investing, politics, romance and religion.
This rule is especially relevant to after work drinks. Telling your boss and the guys at work about your sexual conquests, may get you a slap on the back, and the tick of approval from some of your colleagues. But on the other hand, others may just think you’re a clown, laughing at your eagerness to impress.
Be careful what information you share about yourself. Building on rule 2, whether you are in the office, on a business trip, having after work drinks or playing sports with colleagues on the weekend, you are still at work. This might be difficult to navigate, but regardless of whether you consider colleagues, friends outside of work, they are still colleagues. The above two rules still apply, and you need to be certain that the information shared outside of work, does not find its way back to work.
With the above in mind, tread carefully when making friends with work colleagues. Now, I have made many mates through work and they remain so to this day. There are plenty of benefits of having a buddy at work. For example, you’re more likely to enjoy going there and be more productive. However, as with any mate you need to choose wisely and forge friendships with care. In life, friends sometimes come and go, and sometimes not on the best terms. However, if a friendship ends with a colleague, you’ll be stuck seeing them everyday whilst you still work there.