Sharing personal information at the workplace is tricky, complicated and confusing. On one hand, we want to develop close relationships with our coworkers and bosses and being open to sharing ourselves with them seems like a great way of lessening the distance between them and us. If we share too little, we can be perceived as being cold, standoffish or unfriendly. On the other hand, sharing too much or the wrong kind of information can lead to mistrust, negative judgements, questioning of our discernment and alienation from the people whose relationship is so important to our working lives.
Every work environment is different and what is appropriate sharing in one, may not be in another. Part of our ability to determine what to share and not is accurately assessing our work environment. If your work environment is highly structured and work oriented, the less personal information that is shared, the better. If on the other hand people are very open and seem to enjoy sharing their personal lives, it will be more of an expectation on us to follow suite. Even in the most open environments there are definite limitations on what and how much we should share. Look at who the most respected people are at work, notice how much and what they share and follow their lead.
Here is a list of things to go under your Do Not Share Category:
Anything personal going on in your life that can be viewed as a negative
Never share problems you are having with your in-laws, relationships, your own or your family's struggle with addictions or any kind of situations that can cause others to question you or put you in a negative light. Any financial problems or past criminal activities should be kept strictly to yourself. While you may think that it is okay to sharing the negative aspects of those close to you, as you are not directly involved, your colleagues or boss may view the activities of those in your circle as a reflection of your judgement and or character.
Making negative judgements about others competence
There will always be people at work who you feel are incompetent but for your own well-being it is better that you not broadcast this to your boss or colleagues. Likely these people are known to others and your mentioning this will not help the situation or put you in a good light. Others may view you with suspicion and wonder if you are saying negative things about them behind their backs. Once trust is lost, it is near to impossible to gain trust back again.
Political or religious beliefs
There is nothing that can push people's buttons and induce them to be fired up as politics and religion. Many people carry their political and religious beliefs with great fervour and nothing can cause more damage and conflict than questioning or disagreeing with them. That is why you should stay as far away from these two topics as possible. If directly asked, you could politely say that it is a topic you would prefer not to talk about. Even if you do not express strong beliefs about a topic, there are people who will take offence if you do not adamantly agree with them. Even be careful about bringing up world events around which there are different sides and strongly held opinions that can cause you to be alienated and judged. If these topics do come up, the safest and most empathetic sentiment to express is your sadness over the people who have suffered pain, death or hardship as a result of these events.
Past adventures, sexual exploits or your views on the sex lives of others
Anything that you have done, in terms of your sex life, should stay in the past. A sure way to get into trouble is to mention how attractive you find a colleague or mention that you think of someone in a sexual manner. Nobody is interested in your past sex life, your wild past or any other crazy adventures you may have done when you were in college or any point in your life. You might think it will make you look cool and debonair, but your colleagues may not see it that way. It is a lot safer to let people think that you have led a boring, non-eventful life.
Letting others know that you hate your job
While it may be easy to get caught up to complain about what is going on around you at work, doing so will land you with the label as a negative individual, a poor team player and will garner the attention of management. You will also be excluded from the circle of positive people who are more likely to be promoted and may end up becoming your boss in the future. If you really hate your job, keep it to yourself and start looking elsewhere.
Making offensive or tasteless jokes
One of the quickest ways to turn your coworkers off is to make a radical, racial or otherwise offensive joke. Humour that you might make after you have had a few drinks with your close friends are usually out of bounds when it comes to the workplace. Think carefully before you make any jokes and if there is any possibility that someone may find it offensive, don't say it. The safe policy is, if in doubt, leave it out. Over time, people may forget what you said, but they will never forget the way you made them feel.