I’m one of those “open-book” kind of people. It’s just who I am, and while I don’t think I overshare my personal life (especially the struggles I may be experiencing), I can appreciate that not everyone is comfortable sharing with others or hearing what others feel the need to share.
When I share who I am in my workshops, newsletters, and articles, I am being “real.” I have the same struggles you do, and I want us to connect. I feel the connection when others share some of their life with me. From my perspective, it creates rapport.
But where is the line between creating rapport and sharing too much information? How much is too much, and how do we know when we’ve crossed the line? And why is it risky to be authentic and vulnerable?
- Sadly, there are many risks to being an open book. One obvious one is the potential for a breach of trust. You may share something with a colleague in total confidence, but somehow, that information can accidentally or intentionally be shared.
I often joke in workshops that most people are horrible with secrets. We all feel the need to tell at least one person. I sometimes share my secrets with my husband and ask for his total confidence. But what if he is sharing it with one other person? What if they are sharing it with one other person? I joke that we are horrible, but I’m being serious.
- Unprofessional environment. The information you share at lunch (in confidence or not) with colleagues could create an uncomfortable or unprofessional environment. What if you shared that one of your colleagues is someone you can’t stand to be with? The person makes you uncomfortable, you don’t find their humor funny, and you view them as highly unprofessional. That creates an unprofessional environment as you’ve shared an unflattering opinion about a colleague (which could also be considered gossip).
- Strained relationships. Your lunch colleagues all know how you feel about that person. Assume that person is promoted and is the manager of one of your lunch colleagues. That potentially puts the two of you in an uncomfortable situation (they may like their new manager and feel the need to defend them), or you may spend future time bashing the new manager. Either way, there are risks with you sharing what you thought of them.
- Credibility. Your credibility is on the line. Others could/will question your professionalism and potentially your judgment. They judge your professionalism for sharing a negative opinion of someone and your judgment if they disagree with that assessment or the fact that you shared your opinion.
- Missed opportunities: If your oversharing leads to a negative perception of you in the workplace, it could impact your chances for promotions, special projects, or other career advancement opportunities.
What to Avoid
When sharing personal information at work, certain topics should be avoided to maintain professionalism and a healthy work environment.
- Intimate or relationship details: Sharing details about your love life or personal relationships can make others uncomfortable and may lead to inappropriate assumptions or gossip.
To joke that you and your spouse are arguing is one thing. To share details about the argument, the status of your sex life, or to vent about what they’ve done is generally too much information for a work colleague. The risks listed above will apply!
- Financial details: Discussions about your finances, such as debts, investments, or what you paid for your car or vacation, should be kept private. Sharing this information can create envy or resentment among colleagues and may affect teamwork.
While I agree that salaries must be openly discussed to establish pay equity, ask yourself why you are talking about your income. Is it to create pay equity, or is it to brag?
Bragging about your financial life to others crosses the line to oversharing, and sharing financial information is often not appreciated by others as it is perceived as bragging.
- Religious or political views: These topics can be highly sensitive and divisive. It is generally best to keep personal beliefs separate from professional conversations to avoid potential conflicts or biases in the workplace.
While I agree those are generally good topics to be aware of, some relationships allow you to cross over from professional colleagues to personal friends and supporters. You may be more inclined to share highly confidential information with a friend.
I’m referring to sharing publicly in a meeting or general announcements. Or moving from cubicle to cubicle to update everyone (being your own grapevine).
While being friendly and building relationships with your coworkers is important, it’s equally important to establish boundaries and maintain a professional image. Here are good questions to ask yourself to ensure you aren’t oversharing:
- Why are you sharing this info? What is the relevance? Before sharing personal information, ask yourself if it’s necessary for your work or if it adds any value to the conversation. If not, it’s best to keep it to yourself. Be careful of the bragging aspect of oversharing.
- Consider your audience: Different colleagues may have varying comfort levels regarding personal information. Take into account the culture and dynamics of your workplace and adapt the level of personal sharing accordingly.
- Practice discretion: Be mindful of the size and setting of the group when sharing personal information. Discussing sensitive matters in a crowded office or during an important meeting may not be appropriate.
- Focus on common interests: Instead of divulging personal details, find common ground with your coworkers based on hobbies, activities, or shared professional goals. This can create rapport without crossing any oversharing guidelines.
Recognizing red flags: signs that you’re oversharing
While I realize I tend to be quite open about my life, I also know that I typically don’t cross the lines I’ve shared above. However, I still want to be on guard if my natural style strays into dangerous territory.
- TMI? Do people joke with you about TMI (Too Much Information)? They may be telling you that what you are sharing is across the line. Pay attention to when they share that, and if necessary, stop what you are saying and ask seriously if you shouldn’t be sharing that information. You will get sincere answers if you ask your colleagues for sincere input.
TMI often applies to your personal, romantic relationships, health issues (bodily functions), or financial struggles.
- Complaining excessively: Constantly venting about personal problems or gripes can create a negative workplace atmosphere. While it’s okay to seek support from coworkers, be mindful of how often and how much you complain. If you are routinely complaining about the boss, the coworker down the hall, your spouse, your teenager, etc., ask yourself if you are oversharing too many negative and complaints.
- It is about work? Keep it professional: Stick to work-related topics and avoid sharing intimate or sensitive details about your personal life. Keep the focus on tasks at hand and maintain a professional tone in your conversations. Think about your shared hobbies and move to those discussions instead of sharing your personal details.
By having a black-and-white look at the risks of sharing, being aware of what we need to avoid sharing, setting our boundaries, and identifying our red flags, we will have a full view of our level of oversharing.
I can admit that while I am creating rapport by welcoming you into my life, I don’t share anything my family would be upset to know I’ve shared. I keep my disclosures to commonalities and humor.
But I do often question if I’ve crossed the line. Never assume your level of comfort is the same as others.