We spend a lot of time at work. Forty hours a week for forty odd years adds up to a whopping 70 percent of your life spent in an office, says millennial career expert Jill Jacinto. And as such, “it’s only natural to become friends with your coworkers,” she points out. But Heather Huhman, a career coach and founder of Come Recommended, says, “in any relationship, it’s important to have boundaries,” and Jacinto agrees.
In other words, as Jacinto puts it, “at the end of the day, they are your coworker first and friend second.” And there are just some things you should never, ever tell them.
Here, according to our career experts, are six things you need to keep to yourself.
1. “That presentation totally sucked,” or any other unconstructive criticism.
It’s not always easy, but according to Huhman, you should never give a coworker unconstructive criticism. “When you’re friends with a coworker, it can be tempting to just tell them like it is. But this isn’t always helpful.” Instead, Huhman says, “It’s better to discuss what mistakes were made and offer solutions to the problem.” A friend will appreciate your help — and your office will be better off for it, she says.
2. “I hate our boss,” or anything else derogatory about your employer.
You may loathe the person for whom you work and need to vent — but Jacinto warns you should not share your boss-related frustration with your coworker. “You never know what they might say you said about that boss to another team member, HR or worse, the boss you have been complaining about,” Jacinto points out. “A vent session could then be misconstrued that you were badmouthing your employer.”
3. “You’re the best salesperson in the office,” or whatever they want to hear.
Giving a coworker a compliment may seem harmless, but telling a white lie because it’s what your coworker wants to hear is never a good idea, warns Huhman. “When someone in the office is also a friend, it can be tempting to tell them they did a great job when their performance was actually subpar,” she admits. “But that does neither you nor them any favors, because they’ll continue to do below average work because you told them it was excellent.” The truth, however, will help everyone.
4. “You’ll never guess this about my client,” or any sensitive client details.
“It’s a given you should never badmouth a client to a coworker,” Jacinto says, “but you also need to make sure you are not releasing any of their private information across departments.” Jacinto recalls a client who was “burned badly in this situation when her work friend asked to see a client event list — which was highly classified,” she says. “Except, it’s against the rules to share that type of information and both of the people ended up getting fired for that incident. Do not let a simple file upload or email share put you in this situation.” Keep confidential information exactly that.
5. “Did you hear about what Amy did last night?” or any other office gossip.
Spreading office mates’ business — even with your work BFF — is never a good idea. “Chances are, you have more than one friend at work,” points out Huhman. “But that doesn’t give you the right to talk to one about another’s personal life. Even if the info seems harmless, it can negatively affect how your friend is perceived in the office.” So try to stick to facts and figures, and save the gossip for your out-of-office friends.
6. “I totally screwed up,” or any other admission of a big mistake.
Of course, mistakes happen. But, Jacinto warns, “do not publicize your mistakes to your work friends. Whether it’s an email that didn’t go out, a presentation that had the wrong data or negative client feedback, try not to spill the beans to your work friend.” Why? Because even though you grab coffee and catch up on your weekend plans, “you are still coworkers and competitors,” Jacinto says. “You never truly know how someone could use this information against you. They might not even realize it themselves until it’s just you and them up for the coveted promotion, raise or client.”
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