The Sharing Game

Starting a new job can be a fun yet nerve-racking experience. Meeting new people and learning the ropes can take some time. In the beginning, most people will be reserved, not offering up too much information about their personal lives or opinions. As the days go on and we feel more comfortable, we might talk a bit more about our personal lives.

Our personal lives are exactly that, personal. What we do or whom we do it with is our own personal business. This information is ours, which we can choose whether or not we want to give up. When you start a position within a new company, it is wise to spend your first few months of employment testing the waters. Knowing who best to share with and to what extent can mean the difference between a career flop and success.

The need to share
Wanting to talk with others about our personal lives and endeavors is natural, as many people want to build ties with their coworkers, and some may even find lifelong friends in the workplace. We likely spend at least eight hours a day, five days a week with our coworkers, more time than we typically spend with our own family members. While the time spent together and a need for a personal connection in the day to day is understandable, it is important to know when enough is enough and opening up turns into over sharing.

Sharing personal information in the workplace is one thing not often discussed in the employee handbook. Some people are aware of its possible damaging effects, while others are clueless. Sharing too many details about what you do in your private time could potentially result in a loss of trust or respect. “Sure, sharing personal stories is vital to forming bonds at the office,” writes Tara Weiss in an article for“But sharing too much, particularly inappropriate details of your life, can affect how you are viewed professionally.” In curbing over sharing, you can manage the way others perceive you and often enhance your reputation in the workplace, opening the door to new and brighter career opportunities.

Sharing is something that people are getting more and more used to in recent years. Blogs and online profiles like MySpace and Facebook offer users an outlet to share experiences with others as often and as in depth as they like. While this can be a great tool for networking when done appropriately, the behavior of heavy sharing frequently spills over into our professional lives at the office.

Consider the situation
Carefully considering the situation you are in — and those who you are in it with — is important. Understanding the situation you are in and how it relates to the motives of those around you should dictate how much of what information you share.

Spending time chatting with coworkers should not get in the way of any assigned tasks or duties. Damaging your reputation and damaging your work are two risks you take when oversocializing at work. Especially in aircraft maintenance, time spent not paying attention to work can be extremely risky and lead to unsafe conditions.

It is reasonable to believe that your employer does not expect you to be focusing on the task at hand every second of the day, but too much time spent talking with other workers means less time actually working. Monday morning greetings where you discuss the activities of your past weekend should be kept brief. The lunch hour, however, is a great time to catch up with colleagues. The lunch hour chat, if held offsite, also allows for more privacy.

Whether you are being interviewed for a job or are involved in an important client meeting, you need to evaluate whom you are with and what information they truly need from you, keeping the task in mind. Misinterpreting a situation and over sharing can draw negative attention, and distract from your successes in the workplace. Often the impression an encounter like this creates will stick, but you can try to repair it maturely.

Repairing the over share
You might often find yourself on both ends of an over-sharing experience. In an article “Beware of the Over Share in Everyday Conversations,” Melissa Dahl offers a few tips for how to put a stop to both situations.

When you find yourself in a situation with someone who over shares:

  • Suddenly remember that you have to be somewhere, and leave.
  • Change the subject at the first opportunity.
  • Listen patiently until the person runs out of stuff to share.
  • Give them the tried and true smile-and-nod.

Save yourself from the risk of over sharing by responding differently depending on whom you are talking with. Answers to queries about your weekend should range from vague and polite to play-by-play detail.

  • To an acquaintance: “Oh, it was great! I spent time with some old friends.”
  • To a friendly co-worker: “A bunch of us went to a bar. Good times!”
  • To your best friend: “We got so wasted, I can hardly remember what happened!”

When sharing is good
There are times however, when sharing with coworkers and employers can lead to a better work environment. Employers are becoming more flexible with workplace hours and telecommuting, meeting the needs of today’s busy workforce. If you are dealing with issues as a single parent or a part of a dual parent household, sharing some information about the stresses of a lengthy commute or conflicting schedules may be in your favor.

Alternately, if you avoid voicing your concerns and stresses your employer will not know what your specific needs are and how they relate to the workplace. The issue should be confronted in a way that shows you are seeking a solution, not general complaining.

Despite your best efforts, you will likely find yourself in a situation where you over share about your personal life. It is in your best interests to immediately offer a sincere apology to all parties involved without making too big a deal of it. State your apology as if you mean it, and then move on to bigger issues: work. Bringing too much attention to the initial over share only calls more attention to it. By keeping our personal lives personal we can avoid these mistakes altogether, and focus on building our careers, not repairing them.