During the past month, I've had several queries about personal information, as in, how much should be revealed within the confines of the workplace?
Consider this-you are the parent of a driving teenager, a challenge that post teen parents will empathize with you on. Your son has been practicing his independence with the car, his responsibilities on the home front, and in general, he's being a royal twit. You aren't getting enough sleep-you are worried; you've even had a call from the police that your former pride and joy has recently been picked up for drag racing during rush hour; and your neighbors are grumbling about the level of noise generated from his side of the house with windows wide open. You aren't a happy camper, and for that matter, either are your son and the rest of the family.
What do you do? Bite your tongue, ground the kid until voting age . . . and share your exacerbation with coworkers? Is there a difference in what men say in the workplace than what women say to each other? You bet, and for women, it can ruin a career. For years, men have been dinged for not sharing personal information about themselves, their families, and their fill-in-the-blank. Women rarely feel hesitant to share and confide personal fears, concerns, hopes and aspirations to . . . anyone and at anytime!
Most likely, if you are a male, you will most likely not say anything at work about the latest escapades of your son. If you have an after-work activity-sports or a workout-you might, and I say might, confide in your partner that your son is acting out and raising hell at home. You may issue ultimatums to him, but creating a running banner with your colleagues and friends is unlikely.
The Big Deal
Now, let's switch genders. Women enjoy talking about their kids-the good and the bad. It's being part of the club of womanhood/motherhood. If you are a female, everyone at work will know the intimate details of what he's done this time. You may even lace your commentary with a few, "I don't know how these parents of teenagers make it through . . . I'm at my wits end from non-sleep and counter-fighting all the time. Joining the military is beginning to sound good to me." And, as others nod their heads in agreement, you may be thinking, so what . . . what's the big deal if I share what goes on at my house?
The big deal is that the word spreads. Let's say you are being considered for a major promotion-something that has been a true career goal for you. You are on the short list and know that a decision will be made within the next two weeks. You are also willing to admit that your primarily competitor for the position is as equally talented as you are. You want this position, but deep down, know that if either of you gets it, the company will be in good shape.
The big day comes and the position does not have your name attached to it. In fact, the office grapevine questions whether you will be able to make it through the teen years; that the last thing that you need is another responsibility added to your shoulders. After all, you did say that you were at your wits end and that you didn't know how parents got through these years didn't you?
It's a smart career move to have some rules about what you share and what you don't share in your workplace. Start with:
o Personal Problems-we all have them, some to a greater degree than others. Unless it's a major health issue or something that directly impacts your work, it's best to strongly filter what you bring into the workplace and divulge to and with others.
o Previous Mistakes-everyone makes mistakes-mini ones and major ones. If it's behind you, it's in the past. What did you learn, what can you use, and do you really need to tell the workplace world that you created a major disaster for an employer three jobs ago?
o Money Issues-the economy is tough for many right now with the cutbacks and shutdowns. But, is this the time to grumble and complain about the level of Holiday debt you created or how the car payment is pushing you toward bankruptcy. If money really is a problem, contact a group such as Consumer Credit Counseling Service for help in getting back on track.
o Personal Confidences-if someone tells you something in confidence, it's supposed to be retain in confidence-at least, that's the usually assumption that women carry. It is so easy to share information casually-women routinely connect with others this way, men don't. A word to the wise-if you don't want it repeated, don't say it.
So, I'm with the guys-don't be so open to everyone, everything. There is a time and place for divulging personal information. Across the water cooler, in the cafeteria or just in general chatter is usually not the appropriate playground.