How to navigate office banter

office banter

Office banter is something there is an awful lot of here at Total Assist Group, and it is a factor that works really well in our office environment, acting as a counter balance to high pressure, intense and hectic situations. As well as being fun, light hearted and good for team morale, banter can help you cross the bridge from just colleagues to friends and that is definitely something we promote within the Total Assist family.

Described as “an exchange of light, playful, teasing remarks; good natured raillery” banter can be good for business when used correctly, as it forges close bonds between co-workers, eases office tensions and can put a smile on the face of a particularly bad day. Despite this however, there is a fine line to banter in the office and it’s important that you don’t go overboard to cause offense. The 2010 Equality Act includes a ‘third party harassment’ clause, which states that an individual can make a claim over any banter or jokes that are found to be offensive, even if the remark wasn’t aimed at the reporter, or also if the listener was only in earshot and not in the actual conversation.

As HR Manager, I have plenty of experience dealing with the minefield of office banter. Here are my do’s and don’ts…


  • Test the water – gain a better understanding of colleagues by judging their responses to jokes made. If they join in, great; if they don’t, then it’s time to back off
  • Engage in general conversation with your co-workers and be light hearted about yourself
  • Play it slow – it’s not a race to create banter off the bat. Get to know your colleagues first
  • Put yourself in the shoes of your colleagues, and modify your behaviour if you need to
  • Think about potential team impacts – for example if the same person is becoming the butt of everyone’s joke. Once or twice was taken in good humour, but by the tenth time it’s no wonder your colleague is getting frustrated

office banter 2


  • Banter over email or Facebook – the context is never as clear and can be easily misinterpreted
  • Make comments about other people’s appearance – it may be a sensitive subject for them
  • Gossip – again another fine line, but gossip is not the same thing as banter
  • Banter about race, sex, disability, age, sexual orientation or religious beliefs as this could land both you and your company in hot water if your joke gets taken the wrong way

Bear in mind…

  • Your limits may not the same as those around you, so be considerate
  • If you are going to give as good as you get with regards to banter, then you have to be prepared to take it as well
  • Be careful with mickey-taking – don’t let this style of joke be your default. Many people will still laugh along even if they are bothered by it

Office banter can occasionally be a string to the bow of office politics, so here’s are my top tips for negotiating your workplace…

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1) Make choices – Pick your fights and know when to succumb. Just bear in mind what the end goal is and what needs to be achieved at the end of the day – focus on business objectives.

2) Don’t moan about things outside of your control – These things happen, so pick yourself up, dust yourself off and concentrate on what you can influence to impact on the situation and create a positive outcome.

3) Don’t take sides – Try not to get involved in tit for tat discussions in the board room as this can hinder business developments. If two power players can’t agree on how to move a project forward, try and resolve the situation by discussing the pros and cons of both plans and linking all conversations back to the business objectives. No one can argue with those.

4) Keep your allies – Don’t get personal in business meetings. You may not agree with someone’s suggestions, but taking it out on the person is not the way forward – they may have other good ideas and you always need to keep colleagues onside. So reign in your frustration and talk around proposed plans to put forward your points of view in a non-confrontational manner.

5) Be understanding – To generate an open and successful business, it is important to understand your colleagues before forcing them to understand you. If they feel listened to, they are in turn more likely to listen to what you have to say, which is productive all round.

6) There doesn’t have to be a loser – When people disagree on a topic, the natural assumption is that there is a winner and a loser, but that doesn’t have to be the case. In business, usually a solution can mean both parties get the win and can reap the benefits, and this is definitely better in the long term.

[testimonial name=”Mandy Roberts” who=”HR Manager” imagelinks=”” vertical=”no”]”I have recently joined Total Assist Group as HR Manager, liaising with teams across the company to ensure everything runs as smoothly and efficiently as possible.”[/testimonial]