The Rules of Talking About People You Work With

"Ugh. Chelsea's so annoying." I HEARD THAT.

Ladies talking
(Image credit: Getty)

If you made a Venn diagram comparing work and high school, pretty much all the stuff would congregate in the middle except one: As a Young Professional, you're paid money in exchange for showing up and playing nice with all the other kids.

That's not always easy—especially with Never-Meet-a-Deadline Natalie or that girl who's always going to the bathroom (I drink a lot of water, okay?)—but gossiping and other uncouth behavior can only come back to bite you in a sensitive area that's not often exposed to sunlight. So how are you supposed talk about your colleagues to their faces and to…not their faces safely and productively? We posed the question to three of our most trusted advisers and shared their answers below. (Might as well bookmark this page now, friends.)

Rule of thumb: Keep it to yourself unless it's praise. Then you can babble on as much as you want (and as long as it's sincere), says Vicki Salemi, career expert and author of Big Career in the Big City. It makes everybody look good.

Okay. So you've already approached a problematic coworker and had a polite but totally unhelpful conversation. Now what? You should only bring your boss in under these circumstances, say Salemi and Meredith Haberfeld, co-founder of the Institute for Coaching:

1. Your colleague won't be objective

2. She's mean and that's kind of scary

3. You're really ready to move on from the issue you're having with her

Remember your boss is there to mediate and she has both your backs. So don't be afraid to go to her for help if you're in any of the above situations.

If it's your boss with whom you've got a bone to pick, don't be the clueless Millennial who strolls into the CEO's office unannounced to whine. That's what HR is there for. And do not, for the sake of your professional dignity, listen to Daisy Buchanan: Small private parties (one or two) are the only acceptable way of airing your grievances. You don't want to become the office complainer, do you?

You know—"conceal, don't feel." Salemi says don't get riled up, don't use adjectives you may come to regret, and keep it work-related. State the facts and bring proof. Did Lazybones Lisa leave you in the lurch to go to happy hour? Say so (but leave out the nickname).

Be solution-oriented, says Lindsey Pollak, Millennial workplace expert and spokesperson for The Hartford. It shows you genuinely want to make the situation better. Example: "So-and-so tends to be late with her work, so how about we set earlier deadlines?"

So check your company's social media policy before you vent there, says Pollak. You might need to put a disclaimer ("tweets are mine"), but either way, don't say anything you wouldn't want everyone in your company to hear. We're all master creepers now, and anything you say can and will be held against you if something were to happen. (But sharing your work and your promotion news is totally cool.)

Anything you're doing with work equipment is potentially viewable by your employer, says Pollak. Just like you wouldn't use the photocopier to Xerox your resume to apply for other positions, you want to be incredibly discreet about how you use any office supplies. Your job comes with responsibilities and obligations, and one of those is to not use company property to disparage your employer.

And gossip and negativity don't make anything easier.

You should also check out:

12 Ways to Sound Smarter and Stronger At Work

8 Ways to Make Your Boss Not Hate You

13 Words That Undermine Your Authority And Your Intelligence

Chelsea Peng
Assistant Editor

Chelsea Peng is a writer and editor who was formerly the assistant editor at She's also worked for The Strategist and Refinery29, and is a graduate of Northwestern University. On her tombstone, she would like a GIF of herself that's better than the one that already exists on the Internet and a free fro-yo machine. Besides frozen dairy products, she's into pirates, carbs, Balzac, and snacking so hard she has to go lie down.