It was recently that a colleague told me off for butting into a private conversation. In my defence, she was talking in hushed tones to another colleague – which was clearly not work related – in a common room. Curiosity got the better of me, and we all know what happens to the curious cat. “Two people talking in hushed tones doesn’t necessarily mean they are gossiping. They could be talking about some confidential work-related issue,” says certified etiquette consultant Nirmala Lalvani. Her point: Unless it’s urgent, do not intrude.

Set boundaries, Politely

Curious co-workers, nosy parkers, over-sharers, screen stalkers, busybodies, personal space invaders – all offices have one. In fact, motivational speaker and etiquette and leadership coach Minocher Patel says that India is a land of curious cats. “We don’t have a concept of personal space. Why only the office, people want to leave an airplane after making fast friends,” he says. Unfortunately personal questions are the preferred ice breakers.
“It’s not easy to keep nosy parkers at bay but it is important to set boundaries for them and put them in their place,” Lalvani advises and adds, “But do it with a smile.” Her tip: to anything personal just respond in an easy manner. Say something like, “I appreciate your concern, but there are some things that I never discuss with friends. I’m sure you’ll understand.” Then soften the blow by inviting them to lunch. “The workplace is where you build bridges, not burn them,” she says.

Don’t get personal

The rise of collaborative workspaces stresses on sharing. A recent article in the Harvard Business Review warned about the perils of over-sharing. It said: “But the honest sharing of thoughts, feelings, and experiences at work is a double-edged sword… Intimate stories strengthen relationships; they don’t establish them. Sharing too much personal information too quickly breaks all socio-cultural norms of behaviour, making one appear awkward, needy, or even unstable.”
While the boss asking about your family could mean they want to know you better, personal questions among colleagues is not kosher. Safe topics for work are weather, sports and global politics. For the persistent priers, deploy humour. You can tell them to expect the answers in mail.


The Chatterer
She likes to share stories, get stories and generally chat on office time. Mostly harmless but can use the break room banter to his or her own advantage.
How to Deal: Don’t feed them any information. Keep your conversations to quick chats