Whether you love your co-workers or hate them, you're stuck with them for hours each day--and they're stuck with you. If you're not thoughtful about what you say to each other, you can make one another uncomfortable or even miserable--and can harm your professional reputation too.
Here are 10 things you should never say at work.
1. "Are you pregnant?" If someone wants you to know she's pregnant, she'll tell you. Until and unless that happens, assume it's none of your business--and asking is a good way to offend most women, pregnant or not.
2. "You owe $10 for this gift for the boss." Many workers don't want to budget for going-away or shower gifts for co-workers and resent being asked to give up their hard-earned cash. That's doubly true when the collection is being taken up for the boss, who presumably earns more than them. Besides, etiquette rules say that gifts in the workplace should flow downward, not upward.
3. "You're so skinny! Why aren't you eating?" Commenting on other people's bodies should be off-limits in the workplace, even if you intend it as an expression of concern. Your co-workers are there to work, not to have their eating choices or their bodies scrutinized and judged.
4. "That's not my job." Protesting that something isn't in your job description is a good way to plummet in your co-workers' esteem--and your manager's. Most people end up pitching in to help on things that don't fall squarely within their job descriptions, and refusing to help will quickly earn you a reputation for being unhelpful and probably a little bit lazy.
5. "The new manager is a real jerk." Snarking about the boss is rarely good for your career. Even if others join in, your comments may get back to your manager. And even if they don't, you don't want to become known as a wellspring of negativity.
6. "I heard Kim is dating Ryan." If you spread office gossip, your co-workers might listen eagerly, but they'll note that they can't trust you to be discreet. It's great to bond with co-workers over life outside the office, but the details of other people's lives aren't yours to share.
7. "You're HOW old?" Whether you're implying someone is surprisingly young or surprisingly old, keep your amazement to yourself. Show respect for your colleagues as professionals, and don't baby the younger ones or make the older ones feel they're one step away from retirement.
8. "Don't ask me. They don't tell me anything." Complaining about how disempowered you are is a good way to undermine your own credibility and authority. If you don't have the information you need to do your job, you should go ask for it--not complain to others that you don't have it.
9. "Why are you so dressed up today? Got a job interview?" You might not be thinking when this pops out of your mouth, but there's no outcome here that doesn't put your co-worker in an awkward position. If she does have an interview, you're forcing her to either confide in you or lie. If she doesn't, she now has to worry that you think she does.
10. "I'm so hungover." Telling your co-workers about your long nights partying might seem like no big deal, but if you get a reputation as a lush, you'll find your credibility diminishes--no matter how good your work.
Alison Green writes the popular Ask a Manager blog, where she dispenses advice on career, job search, and management issues. She's also the co-author of Managing to Change the World: The Nonprofit Manager's Guide to Getting Results, and former chief of staff of a successful nonprofit organization, where she oversaw day-to-day staff management, hiring, firing, and employee development.
- Employment & Career