We spend a lot of time with the people we work with, and often in a tiny, compact space. If you’re lucky, you have co-workers you actually want to spend time with outside the office—at happy hour down the street, at a team outing to a baseball game, or even at the occasional weekend meet-up.
But even if you remove yourselves from the physical office, you probably find that you’re still chatting about everything happening at your 9-to-5.
This tendency to talk about work with your colleagues when you’re not actually there makes sense—after all, it is most likely the first thing you have in common.
However, it’s not in your best interest to make it your main point of discussion. Here’s why:
You’ll Get Yourself Worked Up for Nothing
Let’s be honest. Often when we’re talking to our fellow employees about work, it quickly spirals in a negative direction. Especially when alcohol gets involved. And the minute it takes that turn, the result of the conversation tends to be destructive.
What starts out as a simple “So, how do you like working with Ted?” becomes “Well, I like Ted as a person, but he writes the most annoying emails,” and “Did you notice he leaves early single day?” All the dangers of gossiping about your colleagues aside, suddenly you’ve made Ted the focus of your “happy” hour—which might feel good in the moment, but won’t leave you feeling great when you walk away and realized you trash-talked someone for an hour.
And, if it doesn’t turn into a rant about an individual, then perhaps it’s about the company overall. Before you know it, you and your cube-mate think you can run the business better than those currently in charge, and you spend the remainder of the night discussing everything that’s wrong and how you would fix it.
While you may have some decent suggestions on how to improve things, you’re not going to accomplish anything in this manner. Your half-off beer may make you feel like you’re on top of the world, but it would be much more effective to save your “company overhaul” recommendations for your next meeting with your manager.
All this negative conversation does is exacerbate any adverse feelings you may already have about your job since you’re highly unlikely to say or do anything positive or actionable in the moment. Work can be hard enough without this—no need to make it worse.
You’re More Than Your Job—and So Is Your Colleague
Believe it or not, that person you bump into by the coffee station every day is so much more than the guy who sits a few cubes away and sends you an email every so often (or 10 times a day). He has a life away from his desk and also had an identity prior to landing this gig. When we spend all of our time gabbing about work, we fail to see our colleagues as real people, just like us.
Getting to know Ted for who he is—in addition to being a guy who manages product in the marketing department—will not only be so much more interesting, but will also help you understand him more as a co-worker. For example, did you know Ted has two kids and is responsible for picking them up from daycare every day (hence why he always runs out of the office at 5:45 on the dot)? Turns out he wasn’t being rude when he told you that he would discuss that email with you tomorrow, he was running late to grab his daughters.
It’s Human Beings 101: The more you know about a person, the better you’ll understand his motivations—and the better you understand those, the easier it will be to work with him. Or, at least make small talk in the kitchen.
Not to mention, all that non-work convo can also help broaden your world—the person you see in the elevator every day may have the coolest interests ever. And before you know it, you have a new passion all because she introduced you to it. Think about it: You never would’ve discovered your love for podcasts had you spent every second venting about Ted.
While talking about work may be cathartic at times, it’s ultimately not beneficial. So next time you and fellow team members hang out outside of work, try talking about something else. And, if worse comes to worst and you need a fallback topic of conversation, it’s okay to start with the weather. Especially during this balmy December.