Your co-workers may feel like your best friends, but you still need to be diplomatic, kind, tactful and discreet around them.

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Nothing is more natural than becoming friends with co-workers. After all, you probably spend more hours of the day with work colleagues than with any other group of people in your life, even family. Your choice to work in the same field means you likely have shared values, similar goals and related interests.

But co-worker friendships, as warm as they may be, are almost always temporary. People resign, are fired or laid off, or get transferred. What’s more, many professional relationships have an element of competition to them (when you’re gunning for the same promotion).

In fact, the person who seems like a pal today may be a rival tomorrow. So the smart thing to do is to always be a little careful about the things you say to the people at work.

Mostly this is common sense. You know you should never make comments about personal appearance, or ask to borrow money, or try to convert colleagues to your religion or political party. Ditto for profanity, insults, boring people to death about the details of your upcoming wedding/vacation, or asking them about their salary and benefits.

But did you know that even an “innocent” comment such as “I’m surprised you were asked to attend that meeting” can appear belittling and even unprofessional? Asking about retirement plans is another potential pitfall — some people may take it as a remark on their age, or a not-so-subtle dig that they should step aside so someone else can have a chance.

A number of common workplace remarks tend to reflect poorly on the person making them. “Don’t ask me; they never tell me anything!” is a good example. People intend it as humor, or as a way to bond, but it only makes them look out of the loop and possibly not too bright. The same goes for dissing (“That new supervisor is such a jerk”), bitching (“I hate this stupid job”), rumor-mongering (“Did you know Jack is dating Jill?”), or over-sharing (“Oh, I’m so hung over”).

Many lifelong friendships, even marriages, start off at work. It’s completely normal to bond with those who share our labors. But during the period a relationship is based your job, it’s a good idea to speak with prudence, tact, consideration and forethought.

Karen Burns is the author of The Amazing Adventures of Working Girl: Real-Life Career Advice You Can Actually Use and of the novel “The Paris Effect.” Email her at