Getting along with your coworkers is great — it can make your workday less dreary, help you focus better, and make you more productive.
But according to Rosalinda Oropeza Randall, an
etiquette and civility expert and the author of “Don’t Burp in the Boardroom,” your chummy coworker relationship can become problematic when you cross the line.
Aside from the obvious — like profanity and insults — here are some questions you should never ask your coworkers, even if you’re friends:
‘How much do you get paid?’
“This question is not only unprofessional, but awkward,” Randall says. “Why do you want to know? Will you complain to your boss if you find it inequitable? Or will you speak to your boss on your coworker’s behalf insisting they get a raise?”
‘Did you hear …?’
“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.
‘Are you 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.”
‘Did you make it home OK last night?’
This question is best asked in private or via text message. Coworkers who overhear such a question may jump to some less-than-professional conclusions, like you were out the whole night partying and are probably hungover today.
‘You’re so thin! What’s your secret?’
You may think that you’re giving a compliment and asking a innocuous question, but unless your coworker has specifically talked about their efforts to lose weight, this topic is a potential minefield. Their secret may be, for example, that they have a serious illness causing them to unintentionally lose weight, which they probably don’t want to discuss.
What’s more, commenting on someone’s physique makes for an awkward conversation.
‘Can I borrow some cash?’
Most of us have forgotten to bring cash or our wallet to work once or twice, and, Randall says, 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.
‘Looking sharp! You have an interview or something?’
If your coworker did dress up for a job interview, it’s likely they don’t want this news broadcast to the entire company, and especially the boss.
‘I like the way those pants fit you — do you work out?’
A compliment isn’t against the law, Randall points out, but be selective about what you compliment.
Commenting about a coworker’s physical appearance is considered unprofessional, she says — and worse, could be construed as sexual harassment.
‘I’m looking for another job — do you know of anyone 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.
‘Why are 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.
‘Yeesh! Are you going to eat that whole thing?’
What may seem like light-hearted ribbing could be extremely hurtful and put your coworker off their lunch.
‘See this rash? What do you think it is?’
“Except for maybe your mum 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.”
‘Am I invited?’
“This is the grown-up world — not everyone will be invited to everything,” Randall says. “Besides, are you prepared for the answer?”
‘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.
‘Got any deodorant I can borrow?’
Really? Sharing is caring and all, but no one at work should be that close.
‘So, do you want to hook up this weekend?’
“If you mean ‘get together,’ then say so,” Randall says. “In some circles, a ‘hook-up’ has a sexual connotation, which could land you in a sexual-harassment seminar.”
‘No one will notice if I take a box of the coffee packets for my girlfriend’s new office, right?’
You just admitted to stealing, a cause for termination and, at the very least, loss of trust, Randall says.
‘Can you believe my boyfriend just [did XYZ] again?’
“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.”
‘Aren’t you ready to retire?’
For some people, the subject of age is touchy, and, just like assuming someone’s pregnant is a huge no-no, making assumptions and comments about someone’s age rarely results in a positive outcome, Randall says.