By Kathleen E. Murphy
The tabloids are in business from what some may refer to as “fake news”, or perhaps the information is what would be considered either personal or secret information about the person or people they are writing about. Whether the information is actually real, and if it is supposed to be secretive information is not always known. However, people are fascinated with what would be considered personal information they normally would not be privy to. This same concept of what would be considered secretive information being conveyed in a business discussion is played out on a daily basis, but fortunately for the targets of this information being conveyed publicly, there are fewer channels for relaying this information.
When business colleagues are in the process of developing their relationships, there is what I will refer to as the “secret information dance”. Over time as they get to know one another, and are in situations which are highly stressful, at the end of the experience they typically will have a conversation about how they made it through the experience and how trying it was. They will often also interject information about themselves when they are feeling more vulnerable and sense or perceive a higher level of trust from the other person and the experience they mutually made it through. The information being shared is not typically revealed during regular business hours, and there is a high percentage that adult beverages may have been involved when the “secretive” information is conveyed.
There are varying degrees of what would be considered “secretive” or personal information, and these topics could be debated for days. Handfuls of books have been written and numerous seminars have been given which highlight the topics which would be considered “out of bounds” or not politically correct to discuss either in the office or outside of the office. However, there are still topics which I will place into a “grey area” (e.g., having been in numerous disastrous romantic relationships, you have heightened emotional issues you take medication for, your stance on the legalization of certain drugs, your opinion on age discrimination, body piercings or tattoos, having troubled kids at home, dealing with elderly parents and the stress it puts on you) to name a few. Talking and sharing with a professional colleague information about the subjects in the “grey areas”, or your opinion on subjects which are not considered politically correct can be highly revealing about who you are. Revealing more information about yourself may or may not strengthen the relationship you have with your colleague. So how do you know when it is acceptable to share either personal or “secretive” information with a colleague, without having it compromise your professional position? This is a fair and highly charged question, and the real answer is that it depends on each situation.
If you have known your colleague for a short period of time (e.g., a few months), it would be wise and best to limit the amount of information you reveal about yourself privately in non-working conversations, or at least until perhaps they are the first one to do so. Applying your emotional intelligence skills during relationship building conversations will help to serve you well. In other words, you are going to have to rely upon your gut instincts to guide you about how much and when it will be the right time to reveal any of your “secrets”, if any of them at all. Some personal information should be kept private, and will not serve you well in revealing it to develop your professional relationships. There are exceptions to this of course. For example, if the information serves to bond you with the other due to having gone through the same or a similar experience, could work in your favor.
Revealing the right type of secrets and at the right time about yourself with your colleagues can in fact serve you well to develop and bond you to them. The ability to develop strong bonds with your colleagues will serve you well at various times during your career, and arguably more so when you do not work with them on a daily basis. The best advice I can give you about whether or not to reveal secrets to your colleagues is to think about whether sharing this information will compromise your integrity with them, or have them look at you in a more positive light for coming across as being “more human”. Sometimes sharing “secrets” can help to achieve this for certain people who are perceived as being “cold” or less approachable, and which has hindered their ability to build a strong team because of a lack of trust from not revealing enough “secrets” or the right amount of private information about themselves. What has your experience been with sharing what I will refer to as “secret” or more personal information about yourself with your colleagues?
Kathleen E. Murphy is the Founder, Chief Strategist and CMO of Market Me Too. Market Me Too has expertise in bridging marketing and sales teams and providing organizations techniques to accelerate their market growth, regardless of the industry they are in, or the business stage they are presently at. Contact Kathleen at firstname.lastname@example.org.