All you have to do these days to know some of the most intimate details of someone's life is to check out Twitter or Facebook or read the person's blog.
Some people like to share -- a lot. That's OK if that's what they want to do, but the rules are different in the workplace.
The "transparency" and "authenticity" that someone may adopt online doesn't need to also be translated to the workplace -- and doing so can hurt careers.
For example, how many times has a co-worker shared the details (and I mean DETAILS) about the birth of a recent child? Or a colleague regaled you with the exploits of his recent hook-up with a former college girlfriend?
Not only is this kind of sharing inappropriate in the workplace, but it puts the boss in a bad position. The boss may be aware that co-workers don't want to hear this personal information -- but it also serves as a distraction that can hurt productivity.
At the same time, it can be difficult for some people to know when to curb their desire to be "approachable" by sharing personal details. Aren't we always told to be more open with other team members and be more likable by showing our own vulnerabilities and likes/dislikes?
Yes, it can be tough to navigate how much to share, and when to do it. Let's consider a few things about sharing in the workplace:
- Scan the area. Look at those sitting within six to 10 feet of you at work. Chances are that if you share something personal with your mom on the phone or your bestie in the next cubicle, others will overhear. You haven't just shared something with one person, you've shared it with several colleagues. Do you really want to announce the results of you colonoscopy with 10 of your co-workers? Put another way, do THEY want you to share it?
- Stick to the headlines. If you want to share news of your daughter's first date, provide the headline: "She went to the latest James Bond movie with a boy from her chemistry class." Colleagues don't need to know that she then came home drunk, threw up in the azalea bushes and you called the police on the boy passed out on your front lawn.
- The reflection on your professionalism. Of course it's cute that your daughter had her first date, but you must be a lousy parent if the kid came home drunk with a loser boyfriend, your colleagues (and boss) may be thinking. Maybe that makes you a lousy employee, as well? The rule of the jungle applies here: It's not a good idea to expose a weakness, or you could be tomorrow's lunch.
- Mitigate the drama. When you're going through a rough patch in your personal life, co-workers can provide real support. A boss can ensure you're getting benefits or other professional assistance. But don't go overboard and think that gives you free rein to unload drama every day. Remember that your teammates care about you, but they also have their own problems and challenges. Be aware that taking advantage of their concern isn't fair and may limit their tolerance for your problems in the future.
Finally, sharing with colleagues isn't wrong or even unprofessional. But think about the lines you should not cross -- and then don't cross them if you want to keep your career on track.