Sharing is a good thing, right? It certainly is, if you’re referring to good news, great results, wealth or happiness! But when it comes to exposing details about your personal life at your place of employment, sharing deserves careful consideration.
It’s certainly normal and healthy to develop friendships at work, and friendships usually involve gradually revealing details about our personal lives. However, it’s important to keep in mind that there are always unique dynamics at play in friendships with co-workers, simply because of the professional relationships that exist alongside them.
Friendships with co-workers can and will be tested occasionally by shifting power structures within the organization, usually in the form of promotions, reorganizations, mergers, new hires, or layoffs. Changes like these are inevitable and sometimes surprising.
In a best case scenario, they reinvigorate a team and make the workplace better. But they rarely occur without a few people experiencing resentment, jealousy, and bruised egos – if only temporarily – which can sometimes result in unpredictable or negative behaviour. For this reason it’s wise to keep your friendships with co-workers uncomplicated by not sharing personal information that may compromise your professional relationship in the future.
Here are some guidelines to help keep the personal and professional at a healthy distance.
Know Your Boundaries
Everyone has a different sense of personal boundaries. Many of us know someone who seems perfectly comfortable revealing blush-inducing details to just about anyone; and others who are so private we know little about them. Most of us are somewhere in the middle of these two extremes. So what constitutes going too far?
The answer lies partly on the relationship you’ve formed with your co-worker and if they’ve earned your trust as a friend. If something you say could undermine that person’s impression of you as a competent, professional, or is not something you’d like others to know, you should probably keep it to yourself.
Even the kindest colleague may not be as discreet with your information as you’d expect or prefer. Yes, there are people you can trust to keep your personal details private – and very few people spread stories with malicious intent. People likely to let your story slip out might do so in a thoughtless moment, without realizing it could harm your reputation, or that you simply don’t want it to be public knowledge.
And once it’s out there, it’s out there. An easy way to determine if something you’re about to share with a friend at work would be better kept private, ask yourself, “Would I like my boss or my employee to know this about me?” If the very thought leaves you feeling even a little uncomfortable, don’t share it.
There are always alternatives to divulging private details about your life to a co-worker. Talk to family, friends or a trusted advisor. You can also access your Employee or Business Assistance Program if you find you need to talk to someone and don’t know where to turn. Your EAP or BAP is staffed with trained professionals who can offer compassionate support for whatever issue you face. Everyone involved is legally bound to keep your information private, so consider this alternative whenever you need extra support or guidance.
Keep it Off-line
Remember: whatever you post on social media might not be as hidden as you think! Many sites have ever-changing privacy policies that give you the impression your information is secure, when
in fact it may still be accessible. To see what others can find out about you, search your name on an Internet browser when you’re not logged into any of your accounts. Surprised at what you find? Make adjustments to your privacy settings, if required.
In addition to restricting access to your material, it’s wise to be very selective about what you post online. A quick, reactive comment posted without thought can be easily misunderstood or taken out of context. And always remember – sharing that compromising photo of you having over-the-top fun might seem like a good idea at the time, but could potentially be viewed by a prospective client, colleague, supplier or future boss. Is that the image you’d like them to have of you?
Another strategy worth consideration is to only connect with co-workers (even ones you’re friends with) on professional, business networking sites, and only connect to family and non-work friends on social networking sites. There is nothing wrong with ignoring connection requests—it’s your right. If you fear someone will feel insulted by an online rejection, you can always explain that it’s part of your personal online policy to exclusively connect with colleagues on professional sites. Anyone who doesn’t accept this explanation readily should be treated with caution.
Proceed with Confidence
The importance of discretion and privacy doesn’t mean you have to approach work friendships with suspicion. On the contrary, consciously maintaining a clean line between what you keep private and what you’re willing to share with others, can make relationships simpler, easier and more fun.
Maintaining a friendly but professional presence at work always pays off.