The Risks of Getting Too Personal at Work
You spend a lot of time with your coworkers, and by the end of a 10- or 12-hour shift, it can feel like they’re practically family. But there are things you talk about with family or close friends that you shouldn’t talk about in the workplace, no matter how close you feel to your colleagues. Sharing details about your personal life, controversial opinions, or complaints about your boss can all backfire and cause problems at work.
When a workplace conversation starts to get too personal, remind yourself of these risks and steer the conversation back to a safer topic.
1. Oversharing can make work uncomfortable and awkward
After you share overly personal information, you may have to listen to your coworkers’ judgment of your actions or field invasive follow-up questions. Suppose you tell your coworkers about a breakup with your boyfriend or girlfriend, and then you get back together with that person. Coworkers might tell you that you’d be better off single. Or maybe you confide in coworkers about a medical problem. They might ask if you’ve seen a new doctor or which medications you’ve tried.
Even if you wouldn’t mind some of these comments from your closest friends at work, information could travel farther than you’d like it to. You could be assigned to a new department and discover that your new team members already know details of your personal life because gossip spread around the office.
2. Information you share could be used against you
In addition to causing awkwardness, giving coworkers fodder for gossip can impede your success at work. If you complain about your supervisor, word could get back to them and they might pass you up for an assignment or otherwise try to retaliate. And if you share too much about your personal life, those personal details could enter into considerations for promotions or other opportunities. For example, someone might claim that you can’t handle greater responsibility because you already have your hands full with problems with your children or your health.
Of course, it’s often completely inappropriate (and in some cases, discriminatory or even illegal) for your supervisor to make decisions based on personal information like that. But once the information is out there, you can’t control what people do with it. It’s much easier to keep personal information private than to try to fight an unfair decision after the fact.
3. You could offend someone
While you might feel passionate about your political opinions or religious beliefs, chances are there’s someone else at your company who’s just as passionate about their disagreement with you. Sharing your opinions can offend people or start arguments. And if you’re vocal about subjects related to gender, disabilities, or other legally protected categories, you could even be accused of workplace harassment.
It’s fine to mention that you went to church on Sunday or that you watched a presidential debate, but your theology and which candidates you plan to vote for should be left at home.
4. Coworkers might trust you less
If your colleagues feel that you share personal information too freely, they might worry that you can’t be trusted to keep business information confidential. Coworkers might conclude that you’ll share information from work just like you share information about your personal life, and they could try to keep you off of confidential projects or avoid telling you things that they aren’t yet ready to announce publicly. Whether or not it’s a fair characterization of you, it’s a possible reaction to keep in mind before discussing your personal life with coworkers.