One component of my personal whole-self-care approach includes curating my intake of information, including news feeds, movies, what I read, who I follow and who I build relationships with.
We all know we don’t get to control who we work with but we can control who we build relationships with. For the most part in our work roles, we tend to stay in our existing relationship / role lanes. We keep to our tried-and-true, well-worn, familiar routine conversational exchanges.
So of course, when someone overshares, TMI shatters that routine and can throw a wrench in your day.
Do you tend to attract those kinds of conversations or worse, chronic over-sharers? Sometimes, when people find out that I have a master’s degree in clinical psychology, otherwise professional relationships explode into “share” sessions but looking back, I’ve always felt like a magnet for those types of unsolicited personal life, downloads.
“That’s 10 minutes of my life I’ll never get back.”
Here’s what I’ve learned along the way and a few steps I’ve finessed about how to handle an over-sharer when you don’t want to wreck your professional relationship but you do want to curb the volume of sharing: optimize, respond and redirect.
I work with this guy. He’s kind and helpful and for like 95% of the time, our conversations are relevant and appropriate. Then… he overshares on his personal life and his unedited editorial opinions. He’s scared of losing his job... He should have studied a different major in college... He doesn’t like this person because he had a weird meeting with them on a project 3 years back... This lady didn’t say hello... He doesn’t like excel but really likes JIRA... He’s speculating on leadership decisions and politics... His wife makes fun of him in public... His kids are unappreciative...
It’s that special kind of awkward
…It’s borderline friendship but zero of my business and I don’t feel inclined to build the relationship beyond what it has to be. BUT - I like him and know that he’s being vulnerable with me. I want to honor that AND honor my own boundaries.
This is my headspace: I want to be a safe place. Relationships matter and knowledge is currency - interpersonal (and sometimes even intra-personal!) dynamics can give you rare and powerful insight to otherwise perplexing situations and foresight into potentially blind-siding risk scenarios.
Think of it as a dynamic advantage. The better you know those you work with and for, the more accurately you can predict their responses and tailor your messaging to them in the future. Listen while they share because they’re drawing you a map to their trigger points for motivation and inspiration, for their fears and needs, who matters to them and why - plus, likely a barrage of other intel you may be able to apply going forward. You couldn’t pay someone for that kind of insight!
RESPOND / DON’T RESPOND
Only engage to the degree that you want to maintain the relationship and your reputation.
“That to which you give your energy is an endorsement.” -- Tarah Keech
Pointer #1: Oversharing does not require reciprocation.
For me, listening is way easier than sharing so this has always been intuitive. A good rule of thumb is to share only as much as you want your boss to know. Because they just might hear (be told) what you say. Channel your Miranda rights: “You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say CAN be used against you.”
No matter what crazy dirt you may have on this other person, you are fully accountable for what you tell them. Once those words are out there, you can be over-heard, quoted or referenced. Only bring your cookies to the picnic if you want to share with everyone in the park.
If you want to curtail their sharing, don’t reciprocate. By not reciprocating, you’re giving them subliminal cues that this line of conversation isn’t really your jam.
Pointer #2: Fact based reflections.
Because you’re a thoughtful, caring human, it’s hard to stop a conversation mid-flow especially if they’re sharing personal details and thoughts.
But how do you toe the line of tactfully not being a dick? Give succinct reflections only. Keeping it short signals that you’re done talking about it.
“I hear you.”
“That sounds tough.”
“What a difficult situation.”
“That’s quite a story.”
Pointer #3: Stop engaging.
Don’t ask questions about what they just dumped on you. ZERO. Questions show interest and literally invite them to share more. Asking questions proves that you’re paying attention and that you care what they’re saying. So, if you want them to stop talking, stop encouraging it.
Pointer #4: Pinky promise.
(With the assumption that what’s shared is legal and not harmful…) Honor their trust and keep their confidence. Don’t repeat what you hear to anyone. Don’t say names. Ever. All that does is damage your reputation with the people who hear you. Keep a lid on it.
When you need to stop the oversharing flood and get back to business…
Rule: Only respond to the degree that you want to encourage more sharing (remember “energy is endorsement”). For example, I have grown to appreciate my coworker and consider him a work-friend. His sharing is authentic and not a distraction from my work. It’s not detracting from our productivity. But - our relationship is as familiar as it ever needs to be - I certainly don’t want to know more than what he’s already sharing. So, when he initiates a conversation I keep my comments surface-level, I only passively affirm his experience and I don’t ask follow up questions. Then, as soon as there’s a lull, I transition to a work topic.
Go for that awkward segue. If none of the “subtle” signals has landed, pop in to disrupt their stream of consciousness with an awkward transition to a work topic (almost any work topic will suffice): “How about that report?” “When is that project going live?”
It works in almost all overshare situations.
Them: I think my marriage is falling apart.
You: Wow. That sounds tough. When is that code dropping?
Them: Did you hear about so-and-so and whos-it-whats-it?
You: That’s quite a story. Did the client accept that meeting invite for later today?
What I love about this approach is it’s all 100% above board, honest and compassionate while self-respecting. Remember, you get to draw your boundaries and with these practices you help others learn how to respect them.
Got any juicy examples of overshares?
Would you like a sounding board for how to handle your real-life awkward coworkers?
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When’s the last time you received an over-share?
Tell me in the comments below.
With love, joy & gratitude,
PS: A refresh of some boundaries basics:
You are not responsible for anyone else’s feelings.
It’s not your responsibility to fix others.
You can say no.
You get to choose your friends.
You get to choose your thoughts. And because thoughts determine emotions, emotions drive actions, and actions determine results - you get to choose your emotions, actions and results.