Some of us are eager to be friends with coworkers. Others prefer to keep their work and personal lives separate. No matter which camp you fall into, one thing is clear: you need to make nice, all while establishing your boundaries.
Recently, an FGB community member found herself in a predicament. “I was having a conversation with an officemate and in our commiseration, and I bashed an upcoming event (which I cannot attend due to a schedule conflict),” she wrote. “The person planning that event overheard and is understandably upset. I have considered apologizing, but it feels like that wouldn’t be enough since I cannot go to the event.”
This speaks to a common challenge: navigating relationships with your colleagues when you don’t necessarily want to be besties. If you’re wondering the same thing, read on for tips on how to keep your work and social life separate, while keeping your work relationships strong.
We all need to vent from time to time, but if you’re trying to avoid becoming overly too close to your coworkers, it’s best to keep it to a minimum. Not only does this breed negativity, but it also tells your colleagues that it’s okay for them to vent to you about their issues — professional and personal.
It’s up to you to establish solid boundaries when communicating with coworkers. While it may be obvious to you that it’s okay to chat about a fun night out with your partner but it’s crossing a line to discuss marital troubles, that may not be so clear to your coworker.
It can be helpful to assess whether you truly consider this person a confidant or if they’re simply a coworker with whom you have a strong working relationship. If it’s the latter, it’s on you to set the tone and set up those boundaries.
You should also establish personal boundaries. That means setting limits for yourself. Not only with this prevent you from socializing with your coworkers too much, but it will also enable you to get more work done.
For example, draw up a schedule for yourself to help ensure that you focus on specific projects and tasks. Tell yourself that you can take a 15-minute break once you complete X task. You’ll stay busy, and you’ll keep yourself on track — without getting bogged down in socializing with your coworkers.
It’s tempting to get caught up in the latest workplace drama, but this never leads to a good place — and it could give you a poor reputation.
“In the future when someone starts to talk negatively, you can certainly interrupt and say, ‘You know, I have a deadline I’m trying to meet,’ or redirect the conversation, or remain neutral,” Fairygodboss’er Mary Kerdasha advised the original poster. “Just because someone is being negative does not mean that you have to also be negative. Eventually, the people will notice that you do not chime in, and if they are looking for a fellow person to commiserate with they will find someone else.”
Sure, the occasional happy hour or work party is fine, but if you’re serious about separating your work life from your personal life, you need to set up boundaries to solidify your commitment to this distinction. That means avoiding engaging in social get-togethers outside of work, especially when they’re irrelevant to work itself.
At the end of the day, it’s all about keeping things professional. The original poster found herself in hot water when she vented in earshot of a coworker, and it’s easy to fall into this trap. Yes, if a colleague is also a friend, you want to vent to them from time to time, but you need to be careful and recognize that you are in a work situation — you’re not just hanging out and socializing.
Does that mean you can’t have colleagues who are also friends? Of course not! But it’s critical to remember that you’re in a professional context when you’re working and that there are other people around — people who aren’t necessarily friends but colleagues. Those colleagues deserve your respect, even if you don’t want to grab a drink with them on weekends.
Laura Berlinsky-Schine is a freelance writer and editor based in Brooklyn with her demigod/lab mix Hercules. She specializes in education, technology and career development. She also writes satire and humor, which has appeared in Slackjaw, Points in Case, Little Old Lady Comedy, Jane Austen’s Wastebasket and The Haven.
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