A while ago I was asked to give an interview for a newspaper reporter with The Globe and Mail's Life section. She wanted to write an article about over-sharing in the workplace - that is, people offering a little bit too much personal information and how that can affect working performance and working relationships. It is a great topic because at first glance it looks 'fluffy' and something that might not be taken seriously, but in reality, this is a serious issue in today's workplace and has consequences we should be aware of that could affect our reputation and our staff that we manage. I would like to share with you the nuts and bolts of what the reporter and I discussed here, although the article can also be found on my website in the 'media' section or through a direct search online for it's title “I Really Didn’t Need to Know That, Sir."
First of all let’s look at what over-sharing is. It is when a person like yourself who is an entrepreneur, consultant or manager of some type engages in lengthy personal conversations with staff, clients, vendors or other types of stakeholders and carry on about your personal life at work. Why would a usually smart, professional person like yourself do that?
People often engage in personal conversation to get closer to others, to build rapport and to build a bridge between work and friendships. Although this might sound like a good strategy to help grease the wheels of business, we also should look at the possible negatives that could come about from a habit of over-sharing.
1. Being labeled lazy and uncommitted to work
2. Being called a gossiper and the spreader of office rumours
3. Not being taken seriously if people think you talk too much ‘fluff’
4. Being seen as a person looking for sympathy or as a victim
5. Being suspected of making allies with some and enemies with others, splitting up the team and perhaps creating a fear of an ‘office cold war’
6. Not being aware that you are giving potential opponents ‘ammunition’ that could be used against you if you ran into trouble with that person or got on the wrong side of office politics
7. Not being considered trustworthy at work to keep corporate secrets, thereby affecting your chances of getting promoted or included on big deals
It can be hard sometimes to separate business from the personal, and I for one do not want to be seen as a cold, uncaring person who is not able to empathize with my staff or partner. Yet at the same time I do not want to divulge so much information that people start to look at me funny, talk behind my back or use the information against me in some sinister way. I also do not want my staff giving too much information out as well to me or others in the office. What is an entrepreneur to do?
Like most things in life, we must strike a balance. Having great communication skills will enhance your people management abilities, and cannot be overlooked. We should be able to actively listen to others and empathize, acknowledge them and their feelings, but then get back on point or on track of the project at hand. We can be an ear for a brief moment and then gently but firmly steer the conversation away from the personal (for their benefit as well as yours) and re-focus it on work. The chatty person will at some point get the hint without you making a scene and without you embarrassing them in front of others. Why is it important to allow them to ‘save face’? Because even though their comments or over-sharing may have bothered you or wasted some time, chances are they did not say things to intentionally and maliciously hurt you or hurt the company you have spent your blood, sweat and tears building. That is why we do not want to over-react with an emotional attack. We do not want to burn the bridge that we are trying to build with staff and others so that day to day business can run reasonably smoothly and with some good rapport amongst the team and stakeholders.
One of my favourite expressions that I am always saying in my coaching and training sessions is that we need to be 'firm but fair'. I think today I also want to add the word 'friendly', because business relationships should be warm and filled with rapport. We are all taught that business is business – it is not personal, but we need to have balance so that we work well together with a good feeling of teamwork yet do not distract from each other and our tasks with over-sharing personal information at work. It can be done.
All the best,