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Ask Sue
A Weekly Q&A Column About Professionalism, Etiquette and Problems in the Workplace
by Sue Morem

Setting Boundaries

Dear Sue: Here is my dilemma: I have a co-worker who, up until now has said very little to me. She recently started sharing some of her personal life with me and was ranting on about how men, in general, are not trust worthy and no good in relationships. I got so tired of hearing her comments that I suggested she consider dating women—that maybe she would find more satisfaction in being in a lesbian relationship.

A week later I was pulled into my boss’s office and told that my co-worker was offended by my remark. I am not sure where I went wrong. I do not find anything offensive about a gay relationship and would not be offended if someone told me I should be gay. How do I learn to recognize what is a boundary with someone?

 - Howard

Sue Says: In the situation you’ve described, it sounds to me as if your coworker was, as you said, ranting, and not necessarily seeking a solution when she was talking with you. She may have just wanted to vent. She was complaining about men because of her involvement with them. I can understand how your suggestion she date women appeared insensitive.

A person who is ranting typically is not in a problem solving mode. You are better off not offering advice, but what you can do if you choose is to listen empathetically.

When you feel you are being burdened with someone else’s problem, you need to put up your own boundaries and put an end to the conversation. If you feel uncomfortable, say so. It is best to stay away from talking about personal problems with coworkers. Try to keep the conversation light, especially with this particular coworker.

Sue Morem is a professional speaker, trainer and syndicated columnist. She is author of the newly released 101 Tips for Graduates and How to Gain the Professional Edge, Second Edition. You can contact her by email at or visit her web site at

Send Sue your questions by clicking here: Ask Sue
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