The Corporate Spy Ring or Watch What You Say in the Lunchroom!

by Karen Keller, Ph.D.

Working in the corporate world, men and women put up with the commute, the dress code, the hierarchy, intense work, and oftentimes long hours. But what about eating in the lunchroom? How often are lunchtime conversations either boring or bordering on invasive?

It never fails. You thought the coast was clear when you entered to gather your bagged lunch out of the communal fridge and sit down, hoping for half an hour of peace and quiet. But then the guys and gals would descend, and the next thing you know, they would be chattering on like they were at a party.

Conversations would cover so and so’s boyfriend, or husband or wife, problems with the kids, movies, what the dragon lady boss dished out in the weekly staff meeting, and what Ben, the receptionist, wore the other day that had everyone in a snit.

What might have been fun fodder at once time now is seen as useless waste of time. Lunchtime is supposed to be a break in the day.

Now, of course there’s nothing wrong with people talking in the lunchroom, but it’s always wise to beware of seemingly “innocent” conversations where you might let on more than you should about your work or personal lives. This is prime breeding ground for gossip run amuck, which could be potentially damaging to your career!

Here are four tips for keeping your lips zipped in the lunchroom:

1. Keep the conversation light. If you have no choice but to eat in the lunchroom, stick only to comments about inane things like the weather, the game last night or the latest technology the office is using. The trick is not to allow people to know too much about you beyond what they absolutely need to. If you let others get too familiar with you, it can pose problems down the line.

2. Don’t play the people-pleaser game. Someone comments on how you look. A quick, “Thank you,” will suffice. Don’t go out of your way and elaborate on your outfit or your lunch menu for that matter solely for the purpose of being accepted. Some people can be very nosy about what you’re eating! Keep all comments brief, with an air of friendliness.

3. Don’t play into other people’s dramas. Oftentimes, you may hear or be a part of conversations about an employee dishing on their latest personal woes. You may feel empathy for that person, but if you don’t keep this in check, before too long, you’ll get enmeshed, along with everyone else, in this person’s affairs – and soap opera city begins! None of this is relevant to your job, so watch how you interact with others, as those important to the stability of your job will also be watching your interactions.

4. Fed up? Get up! Of course the best option for avoiding the lunchroom is going out for lunch, whether that means to a restaurant with a trusted friend, the park, or simply walking and window shopping while you eat. Get some fresh air and a mental break from work. There’s certainly enough happening back at the office to keep you on your toes all day.

On the job, your work persona should reflect professional, straightforward communications. The choice is yours, of course, to impart any personal information to others. By being wise about what you say, you are being conscious about how you want to be perceived in your organization. And this also speaks volumes to your influence!

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