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How to Stop a Co-Worker From Getting Too Personal

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When you work in close confines with colleagues, you often learn a great deal about one another, both professionally and personally. If you develop friendly relationships with coworkers, you probably share information about your personal life as a matter of daily conversation. However, if a colleague crosses the line and becomes overly-familiar to a point that it causes you discomfort, it's time to establish new boundaries.

Create a Personal Policy

Create a personal policy for what's off limits. For example, if you have an illness in your family, are going through a divorce or have a child with problems, these are not necessarily things your co-workers need to know about, and can invite unwanted questions. While colleagues might still inquire about your family or question you if you seem down or distracted, you don't have to provide details. Simply say, “Just some personal issues, thanks for your concern." Don’t allow the conversation to expand any further. If pushed, put it more firmly: “It's personal. I don’t want to talk about it.”

Set Discussion Parameters

Draw a line when it comes to getting involved in other people's personal lives. For example, if a colleague wants to share information about her financial woes or problems with her in-laws, you can opt to limit how much you listen to and how much you inquire about. It's one thing to have a friendly relationship with colleagues and make casual conversation about life issues -- it's another to waste an hour every day listening to someone's personal troubles. If a colleague crosses the line in over-sharing, say, “I'm sorry you're having these struggles, but I'm really not comfortable hearing about them at work.”

Refuse to Engage

Colleagues can't get too personal without your consent. Resist the urge to complain, don't respond to inappropriate personal inquiries and limit the amount of time spent with nosy or intrusive co-workers. If you have a colleague who regularly listens in on your conversations, consider that you might be having too many personal conversations in the workplace. If so, limit your telephone and personal interactions to break times when you can converse in private.

Employ Your Manager’s Help

Employees who continually inquire into the personal lives of others run the risk of becoming harassers, which can lead to a hostile work environment. This is especially true if a member of the opposite sex is the one crossing the line into personal territory. If you've made attempts to curb the behavior to no avail, document the troublesome exchanges and take the issue to your manager for mediation.


Lisa McQuerrey has been a business writer since 1987. In 1994, she launched a full-service marketing and communications firm. McQuerrey's work has garnered awards from the U.S. Small Business Administration, the International Association of Business Communicators and the Associated Press. She is also the author of several nonfiction trade publications, and, in 2012, had her first young-adult novel published by Glass Page Books.

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