Date: August 1, 2016

Author: Brian


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Private vs Public: Talking About Personal Stuff at Work

• How is your career affected if you talk about personal matters at work?

There is a fine line between being aloof and overly familiar. Social protocols dictate what sort of information is shared between people, be they strangers, work colleagues, friends or family relations. It is generally understood that the closer the relationship, the deeper the levels of communication. Work environments are considered to be places of employment driven largely by an economic imperative. However, because we are social beings and spend at least a third of our lives interacting with others through our work, it is understandable that these relationships can become quite personal.

Unfortunately, the power imbalance that often exists between an employer and an employee, or work colleagues, means that the associated risks of mishandling personal information makes disclosure of personal matters a potentially counter-productive and career limiting exercise. Having said this, issues whether personal or professional are inevitable in our daily relationships, and people do need to be able to address these issues in the most direct and constructive way. This is where personal boundaries and the ability to be assertive become critical in order to achieve adult to adult relationships, whether at home or at work.

• What’s the best way to keep personal life private and away from work colleagues?

The best way to keep your personal life private is by having healthy and appropriate relationships with people in your life. This means that your primary relationship will be with your husband , wife or life partner, and it should be both deep and intimate. Then comes your children, friends, extended family, work colleagues, neighbours and finally fellow human beings.

The analogy of a house with doors and windows may be helpful in understanding relationships. A door relationship is where you are fully engaged and enter in, giving all of yourself – see marriage and family. A window relationship involves partial engagement and is limited in terms of encounter – see work colleagues. The problem arises when we have inappropriate door and window relationships, these being door relationships at work, and window relationships at home.

• What are some of the things you should never talk about with colleagues and why?

“What happens at home stays at home” is a good guideline. Discussing our personal relationships, be they our marriages or family dynamics are not to be shared at work. By doing this we may compromise our positions and cross a boundary from professional to overly personal familiarity. This puts added pressure on the listener to become the holder of confidential information, which they may not have asked for or be willing to do. It results in the blurring of the lines which can lead to confusion as to what is and is not expected, opening either or both parties to potential exploitation and compromise.

• If your work productivity is negatively affected by personal matters, how can you address this with the boss?

Trust is the fundamental unit in all human relationships. When trust has been broken, it can be hard to rebuild. I think third party mediation that is neutral, objective and equipped can facilitate the resolution of outstanding issues that may have arisen due to boundary crossing, so that both parties can re-establish appropriate levels of communication and trust.