Warren and I are enjoying the series Superstore on Netflix. It is a good escape at the end of the day. One of the characters has a relationship with another character and hasn’t told anyone yet. Mateo really wants to tell everyone that he is dating Jeff, but Jeff doesn’t want the staff to know as he is the Regional Manager, and it is against store policy.
As you can imagine, it takes a few funny detours as everyone learns of the relationship. As a comedy piece, it works really well. As work advice, keeping some things private might be advice worth taking even if it isn’t against company policy.
Do you have boundaries on what you share with your co-workers, or are you an open book for all to know? Is there a danger of being open and transparent at work?
[ctt template=”3″ link=”3gj6P” via=”yes” ]Is there a danger of being open and transparent at work?[/ctt]
Yes. Sadly, your need to be authentic and open with your co-workers may backfire. Not everyone is ethical about how they treat confidences and may use that information against you. The information may affect your reputation and credibility. People who don’t know you will judge you based on that information, which rarely works in your favor.
However, sometimes explaining why you aren’t delivering your “A” game, losing focus, or needing time off might require that you confide in your manager or HR explaining what is happening and asking for understanding. It doesn’t necessarily mean that you confide in everyone and use your co-workers as a sounding board or a support resource.
I delivered a workshop many years ago where we were having this exact discussion and the pros and cons that came with sharing personal information at work. One of the attendees, Justine, told everyone of a time when she was having an issue with her teenaged daughter abusing drugs and alcohol and its effect on the family and her. She confided in her co-worker to get support in a difficult time. She felt their friendship at work allowed her to share some personal issues in confidence.
As you can imagine, it went wrong. When the two of them were the final two candidates for a promotion in the office, the question they each were asked was, “Why are you a better candidate than she is?” The co-worker shared that normally Justine would be a great fit for the job but that she was dealing with some personal issues with her daughter that may affect her focus. I’m sure the co-worker didn’t intentionally use Justine’s personal life against her, but that is exactly what happened. The situation that Justine shared in confidence was used against her professionally.
I’m sure I can use other examples where sharing personal information was not divulged and didn’t backfire and instead had no impact professionally. Still, the few times they do backfire, they have a lasting impression.
I believe that we often work with true friends at work, and I believe that you can be open and transparent with some of them. But there are boundaries. What information should we be cautious about sharing? What can be used against us, what can hurt our reputation, and what should we keep private?
[ctt template=”3″ link=”20fv3″ via=”yes” ]I believe that we often work with true friends at work, and I believe that you can be open and transparent with some of them. But there are boundaries.[/ctt]
Naturally, politics comes to mind, especially if you are extremely opinionated and judgemental for those who don’t feel the way you do (you may refer to that as conviction!). I remember a day where you didn’t put a sign on your lawn, you never told anyone who you voted for, and politics was never a discussion with co-workers. Politics everywhere has become polarizing. If you strongly disagree with someone, it may alter their impression of you. How many times have you said about someone who feels differently than you do, “How can they be so stupid?” It could hurt your career opportunities if you share strong political opinions. It could hurt your credibility. Learn to keep your own opinions to yourself, or, at the very least, temper down your beliefs and don’t put the proverbial “line in the sand” with how you feel. Learn to listen, change the subject, keep your opinion to yourself, and keep politics out of work discussions, even if you and your co-workers all agree politically (not everyone listening will agree with what the group is talking about.)
If you don’t like and/or respect someone at work, especially the boss, you need to keep that information to yourself. That is information that will come back to bite you. Suppose you need to vent about your manager or co-worker; vent to your cat or spouse. Do not vent to another co-worker. There is a big difference between not having a great rapport and vehemently disliking or disrespecting someone. Keep that strong opinion bottled up.
Your sex life (or lack thereof) never belongs in a work conversation. Full stop. Talk to your friends outside of work if you need to talk about sex.
If you are extremely unhappy at work, you may want to talk to HR or your manager about what you want to do about it, but you do not want to vent to co-workers about it. What will talking about your extreme dislike for your job provide you? Nothing but troubles is what I say. It will hurt your reputation. It will hurt your trustworthiness (if you can pretend to be happy at work when you are this unhappy, what else are you not authentic about with me?). It will hurt your credibility. Please speak to a career coach, a friend outside of work or journal about it. Don’t share your dislike for your job at work.
I’m not saying you need to keep strict boundaries around what you share and don’t share about your personal life and your co-workers. I share a lot with my readers and audiences, but I am very clear on what lines I can be safe to cross and which ones are potentially damaging to me professionally. I have had work friends who became personal friends, and we have crossed the line on some of these discussions. Frankly, I learned my lesson once or twice, and that was enough to teach me to respect that line moving forward. If you are a work friend with an outside work relationship, I’ve learned to have the boundaries conversation with you once we move the friendship outside of the office. If we haven’t moved the friendship outside of the office, I know when to keep my mouth shut.
I’m pretty sure the relationship between Jeff and Mateo isn’t going to be smooth now that the entire store knows about it. The show will continue to entertain me, yet continue to remind me why some conversations are off-limits at work.