How Personal to Get at Work

Default Profile ImageBen O'Connell
How Personal to GetatWork

Striking the right balance between being personal and professional at work can be tricky. Sharing who you are as a person—that you were sad about the weekend cricket, that your cousin gave birth, or that you had a beef with your neighbour—might help you bond with your co-workers and, in turn, progress your career.

But where do we draw the line? When you finally get to know your colleagues on a deeper level, it can be easy to forget that you’re in a professional setting. You want people to see you as someone good at your job, worth investing in further, and an honest and reliable person to work with.

If you’re worried about the blurring of professional relationships, consider looking inward with the strategies below to judge for yourself if you’re overstepping.

Understanding Workplace Boundaries

Understanding workplace boundaries is crucial for navigating professional relationships and creating a healthy work environment. These invisible lines define the acceptable level of personal and professional interaction at work. They encompass work hours, communication expectations, and appropriate topics of conversation.

Clear boundaries benefit both employees and employers. They reduce stress, helping employees avoid feeling overwhelmed by work demands or uncomfortable in social situations. They enhance productivity, assisting employees to know when to focus on work and when to disconnect, which allows for better concentration and efficiency. Boundaries also promote respect and foster a more positive and inclusive work environment for everyone.

Effective communication is crucial for setting healthy boundaries at work. Reflect on what communication styles and frequencies work best for you. Do you prefer emails for detailed information and calls for quick questions? Are there times you need to be completely unreachable?

Another approach is to tell your colleagues about your preferred communication methods and response times. For example, you could say, “I check emails twice a day, but feel free to call if something urgent comes up.”

Discussing your communication boundaries with your manager shows you care and sets your future self up for success. You can explain, “I’m most productive working mornings with minimal interruptions. Can we schedule meetings for afternoons?”

Use technology and leverage work management platforms or project management software for task communication and updates. This reduces email clutter and keeps everyone informed. Silence notifications on your phone and computer during focused work periods. This helps you avoid distractions and allows you to respond on your own terms.

If a colleague is overly chatty or disregards your boundaries, politely explain that you need to focus. You can say, “I appreciate the update, but I’m swamped right now. Can we circle back later?”

For persistent interruptions, mute notifications from specific colleagues during focused work times. If the matter is truly urgent, they’ll find another way to reach you.

Be mindful of your colleagues’ communication preferences. Respond to messages within their expected timeframe and avoid unnecessary after-hours communication.

Remember, setting boundaries is an ongoing process. Your colleagues might take some time to adjust, but clear communication will lead to a more respectful and productive work environment for everyone.

The Benefits of Being Open at Work

Understanding Workplace Boundaries

Being open and personable at work has its benefits. You don’t have to be open at work to be personable, but letting your colleagues that you spend so many waking hours with does make work easier, especially when they’re receptive and personable back.

By encouraging open communication, you tap into a wider range of ideas and experiences. This diversity of thought fuels creative problem-solving, innovation, and a sense of freedom.

Openness fosters trust and psychological safety, allowing team members to freely share ideas without fear of judgment. This leads to better collaboration and the development of stronger solutions.

Open communication builds trust among colleagues and leadership, a sense of camaraderie, and allows colleagues to connect on a more personal level. This can strengthen team bonds and create a more positive work environment. Employees feel valued and heard, leading to greater engagement and morale.

Breaking down information silos fosters a more collaborative approach to decision-making, leveraging the expertise of various teams. Adaptability is simple when everyone is working in tandem.

Risks of Sharing Too Much

While there are advantages to openness at work, sharing too much information can have downsides. Your reputation can be damaged, your credibility as a person can go downhill, your relationships can be strained, and unwanted drama can take over your entire life. Not to be dramatic or anything…

Oversharing personal details about finances, relationships, or anything negative can make you appear unprofessional. Colleagues might question your judgment or focus. Bringing personal problems to work can create awkwardness and negativity. Colleagues may not want to be involved in your personal dramas.

Sharing sensitive information or gossip can erode trust and make you seem unreliable, damaging your professional reputation. If colleagues perceive you as someone who can’t maintain boundaries, they may hesitate to entrust you with confidential information or projects.

Sharing sensitive topics like religion or politics can spark conflict, especially in diverse workplaces. It’s best to keep these conversations out of the office. Oversharing can make you seem immature or irresponsible, hindering your chances of advancement.

Once you share something at work, you lose control over it. Information can spread quickly, and you never know who might be listening. Oversharing can lead to unwanted advice or judgment from colleagues. This can be emotionally draining and make you feel vulnerable.

When unsure whether something is appropriate to share, err on the side of caution. It’s always better to maintain a professional demeanour and avoid potential pitfalls.

Finding Your Balance

Striking the right balance between professionalism and personal connection at work is an art form. There’s a fine line between being TMI and building personal rapport.

Hobbies, interests, and light-hearted weekend plans are great conversation starters. They help you connect with colleagues without getting overly personal. However, it might be best to leave out of work discussions, finances, relationship issues, or anything negative. 

Pay attention to how colleagues respond. If they seem withdrawn, respect their space and adjust your conversation style. Similarly, don’t bombard colleagues with after-hours messages unless absolutely necessary.

Following these tips can help you foster positive connections with colleagues while maintaining a professional image. Remember, a friendly and approachable attitude goes a long way, but keeping some aspects of your life private protects you from potential downsides. It’s all about finding that happy medium!