January 5, 2016

Develop Healthy Boundaries: The Problem with Over-Sharing in Organizations


Many well-intentioned professionals have been striving to create more collegial relationships at work, with a focus on positive interactions they hope will boost morale, loyalty and also the bottom line. Unfortunately, opening up is often connoted with over-sharing while friendliness is sometimes mistaken for divulging personal information inappropriately.

Where do we draw the line to meaningfully connect with our colleagues while keeping professional decorum? Several studies reveal findings that people develop trust–the kind that allows professional partners to share credit and clients–when they are honest with each other and when they reveal personal information with their colleagues. Such honesty, of course, has its limits and can backfire by biasing our colleagues, unconsciously coloring their judgment and making them question our competence or credibility. Suppose you tell a colleague you’re going through a tough time at home, for example, and they don’t bring you in on a project, or choose not to staff you on a deal, either thinking you’ll be too distracted or feeling they’re being considerate.

Because the line between sharing and over-sharing blurs professional and private boundaries, the following guidelines offer suggestions for healthy working relationships:

  • Disclose information when it’s in the name of needed transparency. In other words, determine whether keeping information private will directly harm consumers, colleagues, clients and your general business health.
  • Decipher between personal and private information when connecting with your colleagues. Personal information will allow you to relate to the people you spend most of your waking time with, and means you bring your authentic self to work. Your unique talents, interests and background add flavor to your workspace and explain your vision, values, purpose and style. Private information is what you wouldn’t freely broadcast in mass or social media settings; it may sensitize people to you, but might more frequently make them feel uncomfortable, and create tension instead of connection.
  • Engage positively in a manner that still maintains a focus on your work. Being friendly and fun with colleagues, in a professional setting, means that we respect each other’s opinions and contributions, and offer each other help, guidance and mentorship. Positive professional interactions don’t mean that we spend half of our time with colleagues asking them about what they did over the weekend or who they’re currently dating.
  • Institute a time for “clearing” at the beginning of one-on-one or small group meetings. This tool gives everyone an opportunity to share personal information – fun or frustrating – that clears their minds, the air, and gets everyone to focus on the professional agenda. This should be super-quick, such as “my daughter just got engaged” or “my house got flooded and I didn’t buy flood insurance.” When people seem distracted, but they’ve cleared, we know not to take it personally. We’re also able to offer support and advice in an appropriate and appreciated manner.
  • Focus, Finish, Fun. Work should be fun, and there’s time for play. Successes need to be celebrated before moving on to achieving next assignments and goals. When we focus first and finish second, we can have fun with our colleagues in an order that will keep our positivity centered on productivity.

Lee Broekman is an author, professor, trainer and coach. Her company Organic Communication, brings interactive, never boring, always edifying presentations and programs — focused on communication, collaboration and innovation — to your firm or organization.

Find her latest book Successful (Happy) Lawyering on