Recently Elizabeth Bernstein wrote an article in The Wall Street Journal, Thank You for Not Sharing. This struck a chord. As an Executive Coach with 25 years of frontline business experience, I can see how anxiety plays a key role in over-sharing for some individuals. However, this can be particularly disruptive in an office environment. In a social setting, you can easily walk away or disassociate yourself from those suffocating you with their inappropriate outbursts and long-winded stories. In the office it’s a different story. Increasingly people feel the freedom to engage in verbal discourse that is uncomfortable to those in the room. Someone has gone to far when there is an uncomfortable silence, people are averting their eyes from the over-sharer, and they nervously shift in their chairs while quickly seeking to change the subject.
If it is your boss or colleagues you can be held hostage and have to endure the uncomfortable tension they create. I have experienced first hand the following behaviors and understand the agitation it causes for all those involved.
Holding Court: This is the boss who traps you in their office and shares in painful detail inappropriate stories about their personal life including family, finances and worst of all health issues for extended periods of time. There is nothing worse than hearing the nitty-gritty about someone’s medical conditions especially when you don’t even like to hear about your own.
Cringe Worthy: This is the colleague who blurts out comments without filtering – usually just before a meeting is about to begin. The “blurts” are their personal opinion or observation about someone else or even themselves. No topic is off-limits and they tend to be considered inappropriate for the office – commenting on someone’s appearance, weight, clothing, hair or even Facebook posts. It could also include sharing other’s personal information that they know should not be disclosed in public and everyone in the room knows it too. They even aren’t immune to their “blurts” about themselves that leave people speechless.
Truth Teller: This is the colleague who believes it is their role to tell it like it is even if it is not their place. They usually start with something like “I’m the only who will say it like it is, so…” They do this by passing along secondhand information without having all the parties represented in the room. As soon as they start, you know it is going to be trouble and there is nowhere to hide.
It is hard to know exactly the motivation behind over-sharing and it probably varies. Some people use it to rid themselves of anxiety. Some people live as an open book. Some people use information as social currency. Some people want to get the upper hand. Some people simply have low or no self-awareness.
As a coach, I try to help people bring awareness to the impact they are having on others and themselves. In many cases, their compulsion to share is crippling their career. By holding court you are losing respect from your team. Nobody wants to work for someone who wastes his or her time with improper personal stories. For the cringe worthy, you risk losing credibility among you colleagues. People question your professionalism and whether they want you on their team and projects. Finally, the truth teller erodes trust. In your presence, people will be very guarded and selective with what they share thus sacrificing honest conversations.
Before you share at the office you should ask yourself. What response will this elicit? How will this add value? Is there something here for people to act up? What is the impact?