It is possible to be perceived as friendly, upbeat, sincere and a pleasure to work alongside without muddying the professional waters by divulging too much information about your personal life. Building authentic relationships at the office improves morale and builds trust. But, sharing sensitive or personal information can backfire as you paint a picture that may cast you in a less than desirable light.
The goal is to forge a genuine bond with your coworkers without sharing tedious details. According to an article in Harvard Business Review, it's important to be yourself, but carefully.
Self-awareness. It's essential to understand how you are viewed by others. Having difficulty expressing your professional opinion may lead to your message being completely misunderstood. Watch for body language and social cues to determine how you are being perceived. There's a fine line between building a relationship through thoughtful disclosure or making people cringe with embarrassment or boredom. Rattling on about your soon-to-be-ex should be reserved for a counselor or close friend, not the office break room. A daily dose of your elderly parent's care or your kid's drama at school gets old very fast.
Restraint. It's not important to be a part of every story. When someone is talking about their life, listen carefully without jumping in. It's tempting to say, "I know how you feel. I had the same experience last week ...." and go into your own scenario, shifting the focus onto yourself. Resist the urge to formulate what you are going to say next; stay completely attentive to what is being shared at the moment. We all know someone who has been there, done that. Regardless of the topic, it feels like a "one up" rather than a reciprocal exchange of thoughts.
Timing is everything. It's a plus to work with a group of like-minded peers. But, forging a genuine relationship doesn't happen immediately. Slow and steady is the key when deciding how much personal information to disclose. If the time is not right, sharing your most embarrassing moment or biggest regret can shift the relationship in the opposite direction and form your reputation.
Take it out of the office. If you wish to have a more meaningful discussion, continue the friendship away from the workplace. You won't run the risk of peers overhearing information that should be reserved for close friends. It makes sense that we bond with people we see most often, but not everyone needs to know the intimate details of your life.
Allow people to see the real you. There is plenty to talk about that doesn't involve risking your reputation. Building a strong network of professionals, even within your company, is an asset to your career as well as your mental outlook. Let your coworkers into your life by discussing hobbies, personal interests, favorite movies and uplifting stories. Office relationships can be a great support system without becoming a dumping ground for your frustrations or difficult relationships. During a challenging time, when you truly need a friend for support, you will have developed an alliance that you can rely on.