When you spend 40+ hours a week at work, it’s easy for the lines between your work life and your personal life to blur. Add in some co-workers who you’d easily consider some of your closest friends, and the question of what is appropriate to talk about at work can get confusing fast.

So, what’s a well-meaning professional to do? On the Harvard Business Review blog, Greg McKeown offers some advice, suggesting that “to develop meaningful and mature relationships at work or at home we need to develop two filters.”

Filter one protects you, and filter two protects others. More specifically, McKeown says we need to protect ourselves from the knowingly or unknowingly harsh comments of others by considering the source and “filter[ing] the feedback.” In addition, we need to filter what we say to others—being an open book might result in your colleagues feeling less than comfortable around you and damaging the relationship.

It can be a delicate matter trying to balance the two, so McKeown created a handy little matrix to help us.

Where do you think you fall at work? Do you need to take what others say less seriously, or maybe speak up more? The trick here is that the “invincible zone” might be different for different people. It might take some time to figure it all out, but in the end it’s certainly worth it. As McKeown concludes:

When we find the right balance with these two filters, we find the sweet spot, and become invincible. Here, we have the ability to know and be known. We can listen without risk of permanent damage and speak without risk of offending. We can navigate complex relationships because we can adapt without losing sight of who we are.

So, do you need a filter at work? Yes, but it’s not as simple as following some generic list of rules of what you can and can’t talk about at work. You’ll need to reflect on how you’re digesting information and also ask more questions about how others are interpreting what you say. Strike a balance, and you’ll be able to maintain these important relationships. And, crucially, not be “that person” who everyone avoids at work.


Photo of people talking courtesy of Shutterstock.