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Tell Me Less: Some Things Are Better Left Unsaid

We’ve all heard the expression “less is more.” It turns out that this old cliché offers a pearl of wisdom when applied to workplace conversations. While a certain level of intimacy and camaraderie is natural and expected at work, sometimes people reveal too much personal information to their co-workers. This “oversharing” may simply be due to a lack of understanding about what is acceptable.

In her new book The Etiquette Edge—The Unspoken Rules for Business Success (AMACOM, 2005) management consultant Beverly Langford writes, “Although revealing information about yourself may help you build bridges with co-workers, you must maintain a balance between being open and maintaining an appropriate level of privacy. Further, you need to recognize just how much other people are really interested in hearing.”

To begin, says Langford, recognize that certain subjects really should be off limits in the workplace, for example, the following:

10 Topics to Avoid in Workplace Conversations
  1. Detailed health problems
  2. Details of sex life
  3. Problems with spouse/partner
  4. Personal finances (either positive or negative)
  5. Personal religious views
  6. Hot political topics that evoke passion
  7. Personal lives of other co-workers
  8. Gossip about the boss
  9. Jokes that disparage ethnic, racial or religious groups
  10. Lavish purchases

Here are some additional strategies from The Etiquette Edge that can help prevent you from the sin of TMI (Too Much Information):

  • Think before you speak or write. Revealing sensitive information about yourself may seem like a good idea at the time, but you may regret it later. It becomes especially risky when you put it in writing, because once it reaches its destination, the message is out of your control; it may be forwarded to others. Before you hit the “Send” button on your computer, stop and consider if you’re completely comfortable with the information in an e-mail, and if you would be ok with others seeing it. 
  • Avoid gossip. If you are privy to a secret about one of your co-workers, whether it’s of a professional or personal nature, keep that information to yourself. Even when your audience is receptive to what you’re revealing, it’s likely that your trustworthiness will become suspect. Likewise, when someone comes to you with personal information about a colleague, politely but firmly let the person know that you’d rather not hear it. 
  • Don’t expect or demand reciprocity. If you are inclined to bare your soul, recognize your audience’s right not to do so in return. Similarly, when you happen to be on the receiving end of the conversation, don’t let yourself get trapped into feeling obligated to provide equally personal information about yourself.

“Being sensitive to others and choosing when and where to divulge personal information are themselves a form of self-revelation,” says Langford. It turns out that what you don’t say can tell quite a lot about what kind of person you are.

To  to read a FREE chapter from The Etiquette Edge, visit www.amanet.org/books.