Whether your office is big or small there’s a good chance that you encounter daily office chatter. This can take place between people’s desks, in the break room or in the hallways. Although workplace comradery is generally encouraged, how much chatter is too much? What is the line between appropriate discussion and becoming a pair of chatty Kathy’s? Before you strike up conversation, consider the following questions:

Would you want your boss to hear you?

Sure, this seems like a no-brainer, however over time people tend to forget office etiquette 101. You are at the office to earn a living and hopefully produce a stellar work product. Of course, this does not mean that you should conduct yourself as if you have a zipper for a mouth. Conversation is good! However, make sure that you really think through what you are saying. Gossip about other coworkers, complaints about your manager or too much detail about your home life should probably remain in your head. If you wouldn’t want your boss to be a part of the conversation, mum’s the word.

Does this have anything to do with a fellow co-worker?

As just mentioned, co-worker bashing at work is definitely a no-no. Of course, this is the real world and different personality types within the office may clash. However, think back to your high school days. Remember how each clique spent an ungodly amount of time gossiping about the other cliques? Heavens to Betsy don’t revert to that!! An office is synonymous with professionalism.  Wait until you are home to tell your dog Spike about how Mary chews her gum too loudly or that Sam is always late. Finally, if you have a serious problem with a co-worker, speak to your manager. Interoffice gossip will only make the problem worse.

Could your comment be sent over e-mail?

You know that dream where you send something to a co-worker and it is accidentally sent to the entire office?  Terrifying, right? Consider the consequences of a conversation being spread by word of mouth. Think about your office as one giant game of telephone. Per the game, what Sally tells Jim, and what Jim tells Taylor are not going to be the same. Chatter beware! As with the mass e-mail, don’t assume that what is said between you and a co-worker will stay between you and the co-worker. Words can spread like wildfire, and you don’t want to be the one who lights the match.

Does the conversation pass the three minute rule?

Although the office is primarily a place of business, establishing rapport with co-workers is important. You know the saying the family that plays together stays together? The office that gets along moves along. Of course you want to hear about each other’s weekends, children and travel plans. Small talk does not qualify as office chatter. However, try to follow the three minute rule; make sure you can wrap up the conversation around the three minute mark. Yes, three minutes sounds like a short period of time. However, chances are you will probably have several three minute conversations with your co-workers. Try to keep the recaps to a reasonable length. After all, you can always text, tweet or telephone your co-workers after hours and on the weekends to get the extended scoop.

Don’t be afraid to have fun or make friends at the office. Keep in mind the above questions and conduct yourself professionally. This will allow you to make friends while still performing at work, giving you the best of both worlds.