More than a year ago, my room mate had the unfortunate experience of becoming the #1 discussion topic during an office meeting when her coworkers learned her engagement was called off. Forget business — everyone wanted to know “What happened?” “Are you okay?” and, her favorite, “Who called it off?” She was even called into her boss’ office who told her that the office door was always open if she ever needed to talk. Good intentions, but it was too much for her to handle at the time. Since then, my room mate consciously decided not to offer up any more details about her personal life at work or bring her new boyfriend to the holiday party. However, she doesn’t lie when asked directly — she’s just more discreet.
I used to take it very personally that my ex-boyfriend never invited me to his work functions even though other people brought dates or significant others. It was a big insecurity but I do understand that mixing your personal and professional life can be undesirable (really, I do!). For the most part, I view work as an escape from my personal problems — an opportunity to focus on something else until I can go home an brood. However, I do open up to a few people because when I’m going through tough times, it shows on my face and in my demeanor, and I don’t want any of my coworkers to take it personally or think I’m a complete b%^@!.
There are pros and cons for revealing your entire personal dramas in a professional setting. On one hand, no one wants to be fodder for water cooler gossip and the focus should be on work — not YOUR social life. And if you’re a private person, questions about your relationship, marriage or children are very uncomfortable — especially if you’re uncertain. On the other hand, you don’t want to appear closed off and anti-social, especially if it’s a small office environment. It’s also inevitable that people will talk, speculate or ask you questions whether you want them to or not, so they might as well know the truth!
A few general guidelines for talking about your personal life in the workplace:
1. Know who your friends are.
2. Be careful not to reveal anything that could put your job in jeopardy (i.e. anything illegal, stealing from work, an affair with your boss, starting a competing business, etc.)
3. Don’t reveal a co-worker’s secret and be careful not to gossip about others (especially your boss). What comes around, goes around.
4. Don’t let discussions about your personal life consume your work day. Do it during a break or at lunch. Meet your deadlines.
5. It’s okay to say “I don’t feel like talking about it right now” or to be vague. Sometimes a simple “There are problems at home” or “The date was great! Thanks for asking!” will suffice.