Today’s Wall Street Journal features an article on the dangers of TMI: sharing Too Much Info with colleagues at work.
See When Oversharing Invades The Office by Elizabeth Bernstein. Some examples from people interviewed for the article:
- A young man shares that he shaved his entire body for a bike race.
- A woman blurts that she conceived her son on a first date in high school.
- A man tells his marketing consultant he needs a lawyer because his wife sued for divorce after he had visited a prostitute.
Apparently reality shows and TV talk shows have blurred the boundaries between private and public. When Dr. Phil listens patiently and kindly to a sordid tale, we somehow get the message that the situation is normal…and so is talking about the situation.
Age related? I don’t think so. My 50-something creative art teacher liked to talk about her ex-husband, housing problems, financial stresses, and even visits to her “therapist.” We didn’t need to know.
Employment related? Not always. I’ve attended online teleseminars where class leaders said, “Time to end. I have to go pee.” Or they dropped details of their personal lives, often with the well-intentioned goal of appearing human and accessible in an invisible medium. I’ve had neighhors who shared every detail of…well, let’s not go there.
In all fairness, these days many of us spend more time at work than anywhere else. We have very few purely personal relationships that don’t overlap with work. And we’ve bought into the idea that sharing is a good thing.
The first of those two sentences are true. But sharing is not always a good thing. In a workplace or business situation, I believe the following should be shared very carefully or not at all:
Medical problems or exams Sharing could come back to bite you: you might be considered too weak for a plum assignment and clients may be nervous about your ability to do the job.
Family. As far as the world is concerned, you have a happy, functional, loving family. Of course, what’s normal in one family will seem bizarre or cruel to another. Many years ago a colleague talked about the way he disciplined his young daughter…a detail we absolutely did not need to know and one that raised suspicions about his temper and his moral character.
Grooming and personal habits. Again, these tidbits can backfire. What seems reasonable and appropriate to one person will seem negligent or egotistical to another.
When you are in a business environment — any environment where you are getting paid to be there — you are performing on a stage. Inevitably you will slip every so often. However, on a day-to-day basis, come up with some topics you feel comfortable sharing. Sports, music, and gardening seem pretty neutral.
If you’ve got a workplace culture where everybody comes in on Monday and talks about “how I spent my weekend,” come up with just enough harmless stories to be part of the group. Or (my favorite ploy) claim you need to make a phone call and disappear. Most people are more interested in hearing themselves than in your stories anyway.
Remember that anything you say can be used against you by someone who’s out to get you. For example, one man talked a great deal about his anorexic daughter. His colleagues privately speculated that his personal style probably contributed to the daughter’s psychological problems. Fair? No. True? Yes.
Be sensitive to leaks through Facebook. Keep one account that’s accessible only by personal friends and family members. If you don’t want the hassle of password protection, identify yourself and family members by private names that would not appear if someone googled you.
Encourage younger colleagues, friends and family members to be sensitive to oversharing. Often these twenty-somethings have become accustomed to sharing in a college dorm. Nobody bothers to tell them the workplace is different.
If you believe you need to share or “vent” for your own psychological benefit, choose a confidante who is not connected to the workplace. It’s no accident that CEO’s have long employed consultants who are now called coaches. Ideally, you will find a friend or family member to listen. Alternatively, an investment in a coach or therapist can pay dividends for your career growth.
Finally, don’t beat yourself up if you make a mistake. If colleagues want to destroy you, they will find a way. That’s another topic.