Make us your home page

Some personal topics are inappropriate for work

Good friends at work might want to restrain chatter that bothers others working nearby.


Good friends at work might want to restrain chatter that bothers others working nearby.

NEW YORK — After getting a call from your lawyer at work, you might be tempted to turn to your co-workers and gripe about your acrimonious divorce proceedings. Before you do, ask yourself whether sharing too much about your personal life could hurt you at work. What you reveal about your life can influence your bosses' and co-workers' perceptions of you and how competent you are. The subject matter may be just part of the problem — how much time you spend chatting rather than working could also be an issue. "The person who interrupts the work flow, that is going to reflect a little more poorly on them when it's time for downsizing," said Cindy Post Senning, an etiquette expert at the Emily Post Institute, based in Burlington, Vt. Candice Choi, Associated Press

When sharing helps

Watercooler talk can be a vital part of working. Some sharing contributes to a sense of camaraderie that makes a workplace a more pleasant and productive place to be. Often, though, it's about topics of general interest, not personal problems.

"There is a whole set of things people use for small talk, like sports teams and local events," Post Senning said.

Still, because you're likely to have different relationships with different co-workers, the people you're close to may be willing to hear more of the details of your personal life. There are no hard-and-fast rules on what you can share, or with whom. It could be that the person you're most at ease with is your boss.

When to refrain

Politics and religion are often taboo topics at work. Other subjects that should be off-limits include too much detail about your love life or your nights out drinking.

What you might not realize is that even seemingly innocuous subjects could also cause problems.

If all you talk about is your love of knitting, for example, people may eventually tire of it and start avoiding you, said Rachelle Canter, president of RJC Associates, a career counseling firm based in San Francisco.

Your obsession with a single topic probably won't affect perceptions about your competency. But it could undermine you in more subtle ways, perhaps by hurting your rapport with co-workers. In turn, that could affect how much you enjoy heading into the office, and ultimately, your performance.

Even if co-workers share your enthusiasm about a particular hobby, you don't want to let it become too much of a distraction.

"Sooner or later, the boss is going to realize you don't have enough to do, and you're going to be expendable," Canter said.

Another pitfall could be the information you post online on social networking sites. Even if you post it in a way so that only friends can see it, it's always safer to assume anything you put online could become public.

Dealing with an oversharer

You probably know people at work who give more details about their personal life than you want to hear. Apart from some inner groans, these oversharers generally don't cause any real harm.

If the chatter starts becoming a distraction, however, there are ways to cope.

"Do not in any way ask questions or egg them on. Nod, and be passive in responding," Post Senning said. Once they realize you're not going to engage, they'll eventually stop coming to you.

The tactic might seem cruel if someone is confiding in you about a serious matter, like a family illness. In that case, be frank in explaining how busy you are, and apologize that you can't give them the attention they so clearly need.

If you share a cubicle and can't escape the daily monologues, you might want to get a supervisor involved. Your boss may be able to leave you out of it, and simply note to your co-worker that his or her productivity isn't up to par.

When you have to share

There are of course times when you have a responsibility to share very personal information. If you're going through a divorce or wrestling with a chronic illness, for example, you should talk to a supervisor about any time off or other accommodations you'll need.

Especially at a time when everyone is nervous about layoffs, you don't want to leave any doubt in your boss' mind about your priorities. For example, when you're getting married, you need to tell your boss about the days off you need, but keep the conversation focused on what are likely to be his or her concerns.

"It shouldn't be, 'Yippie, I'm going on my honeymoon!' You need to think about how much lead time to give your boss, and how you can help make any absences easier," Canter said.

That said, you don't need to lay out every detail. Stick to the aspects of your situation that will affect your job. Anything else might be more than anyone wants to hear.

Some personal topics are inappropriate for work 10/17/09 [Last modified: Saturday, October 17, 2009 4:31am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Memorial Day sales not enough to draw shoppers to Tampa Bay malls


    TAMPA — Memorial Day sales at Tampa Bay area malls were not enough to compete with the beach and backyard barbecues this holiday weekend.

    Memorial Day sales weren't enough to draw shoppers to Tampa Bay area malls over the long weekend. 
  2. Austin software company acquires second Tampa business


    Austin, Tex.-based Asure Software acquired Tampa's Compass HRM Inc. late last week for $6 million. Compass focuses on HR and payroll.

    [Company photo]
  3. Hackers hide cyberattacks in social media posts


    SAN FRANCISCO — It took only one attempt for Russian hackers to make their way into the computer of a Pentagon official. But the attack didn't come through an email or a file buried within a seemingly innocuous document.

    Jay Kaplan and Mark Kuhr, former NSA employees and co-founders of Synack, a cybersecurity company, in their office in Palo Alto, Calif., in 2013. While last year's hacking of senior Democratic Party officials raised awareness of the damage caused if just a handful of employees click on the wrong emails, few people realize that a message on Twitter or Facebook could give an attacker similar access to their system. 
[New York Times file photo]
  4. Big rents and changing tastes drive dives off St. Pete's 600 block

    Music & Concerts

    ST. PETERSBURG — Kendra Marolf was behind the lobby bar of the State Theatre, pouring vodka sodas for a weeknight crowd packed tight for Bishop Briggs, the latest alternative artist to sell out her club.

    Sam Picciano, 25, left, of Tampa and Molly Cord 24, Palm Harbor shop for record albums for a friend at Daddy Kool Records located on the 600 block of Central Avenue in St. Petersburg, Florida on Saturday, May 20, 2017. OCTAVIO JONES   |   Times
  5. How Hollywood is giving its biggest stars digital facelifts


    LOS ANGELES — Johnny Depp is 53 years old but he doesn't look a day over 26 in the new "Pirates of the Caribbean" movie — at least for a few moments. There was no plastic surgeon involved, heavy makeup or archival footage used to take the actor back to his boyish "Cry Baby" face, however. It's all …

    This combination of photos released by Disney, shows the character Jack Sparrow at two stages of his life in "Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales."  Johnny Depp, who portrays the character, is the latest mega-star to get the drastic de-aging treatment on screen
[Disney via Associated Press]