Posted on Forbes.com
Tara Weiss, 05.06.08, 5:00 PM ET:
The Monday morning ritual of asking co-workers what they did over the weekend isn't as ubiquitous as it used to be. If you're a Facebook user, you likely already know from reading their status updates and seeing photos posted throughout the weekend.
Not everyone is a Facebook user, but that same spirit of over-sharing is infecting the workplace. Thanks to Facebook, reality TV and personal blogs, it seems that a life not publicized isn't worth living.
Remember to think before you speak, or, er, post. Sure, sharing personal stories is vital to forming bonds at the office. But sharing too much, particularly inappropriate details of your life, can affect how you're viewed professionally.
The same goes for not sharing at all.
"Your colleagues are your professional family," says Barbara Pachter, co-author of New Rules @ Work and a business etiquette expert. "You want that connection, but ultimately you're also there for your career. That's where the balance needs to come in."
It also helps people understand who you are and where you come from. "It provides co-workers with insights and helps others deal with you," says Beverly Langford, author of The Etiquette Edge: The Unspoken Rules for Business Success. "If I know things about you it helps me know how to treat you. It also helps people form bonds because of commonalities. You realize that someone is more than just the person in finance or he's the marketing guy."
Pachter recalls working with a company where the sales manager rarely shared any personal details. He likely thought he was keeping a professional veneer, but when he left for a long weekend to get married and didn't tell any of his co-workers, they were offended. His co-workers didn't feel comfortable with him and, whenever possible, avoided working with him. As a result, he didn't get promotions and ultimately wound up leaving the company.
"What you're doing by not sharing is creating a sheet of black ice, and there's no way for anyone to feel connected to you," says Pachter. "In the absence of information, people will make things up that [are] often worse than the truth."
But be careful what you share. It's widely known that managers check social networking sites like Facebook and MySpace as part of the vetting process during hiring. Many say it's their way of examining a potential employee's ability to make sound choices. Blatant bad behavior aside, consider this: Do you want your boss or a potential boss to see images of you making out with your significant other or reading that blog post about your credit card debt? Don't think so.
"We leave a digital footprint that follows us wherever we go," says Dov Seidman, author of How: Why How We Do Anything Means Everything…in Business (and in Life).
Since we spend so much time at the office and with co-workers, it's practically impossible not to share intimate personal details. But someone who is a friend at the same professional level as you today might be your boss tomorrow. If you frequently come into the office hung over and brag about how much you partied, you might not be their first choice for a teammate on an important project.
The same goes for sharing the details of a breakup. If you tell a colleague that you fall to pieces and require several days off after breakups, that person might avoid working with you.
When sharing with co-workers there are some guidelines. First, always be honest. You don't want to be branded untrustworthy.
Stay away from discussing politics with people with whom you aren't extremely close. Sharing deeply held political beliefs "can change people's opinions of you," says Pachter. Also, steer clear of issues that might start heated debates at work. It ratchets up the tension level with someone you have to see daily.
It might seem obvious, but stay away from talk of sex. Feel free to mention a nice date or that you're interested romantically in someone. But anything that involves taking clothes off is off-limits. Some people might take innocent sharing as sexual harassment. Also, news tends to travel fast in an office, so be prepared to have those intimate details shared with others you didn't intend to hear.
Religion is another touchy subject. It's fine to mention spending the holidays with family or that you're taking time off for a religious day, but don't go much deeper than that. Many consider religion extremely personal and don't want to be part of a conversation on a topic. But also, for those that aren't religious, hearing about your belief in God might change their opinion of you.
Finally, don't be the office complainer. There's nothing that turns a group of people off more than the office downer.