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Being selective about personal details at workplace

Being selective about personal details at workplaceImage Credit: Supplied

It is almost never hard to break good news to coworkers. Got engaged? Just walk in, flash the diamond ring and accept their best wishes.

But when it comes to the bad news, sharing can become much trickier and can have an impact on the perception of your performance and focus. That is not because coworkers and supervisors won't be understanding of — and empathic with — your tough circumstances, but because there are many concerns that some bad news may bring to their minds, if you don't handle the situation appropriately.

Think of some scenario like a death in the family, divorce or illness. When such an event happens, you probably will have to let at least your supervisor know immediately to be able to take some time off to deal with the social, emotional or legal requirements.

But who else needs to know and how much are two questions that are completely up to you. Based on the event — a family member's death is different from breaking up with a significant other, for example — you may feel that sharing the news could help or hurt you in the workplace.

But generally there are a few points to keep in mind when you decide to share or not.

Office dynamics

In smaller teams where coworkers are familiar with each other's life, family, etc, sharing good or bad news may come naturally. You look upset, someone asks about what's going on, and you break the news. There are many other environments, however, where a ''How was your weekend?'' question is more or less a formality and the person doesn't genuinely care.

You should use your best judgement in figuring out how far you want to share based on the office dynamics, especially if you're in a fragile emotional status. The worst-case scenario will be that you break into tears with the wrong person. Although this certainly won't damage your career, you don't need to make this person uncomfortable or later realise that your compromised your standing.

Sharing too much

In almost all cases, just mentioning what's going on in your personal life is fine. No one will blame you for grieving a family member's death or the end of a marriage. The problem, however, emerges when sharing turns into an office topic or gossip feed, and you begin to elaborate on your devastation.

This situation may signal to your supervisors that you are unable to focus and do your job. So even if you decide that sharing is the way to go, keep your details to yourself and avoid unnecessary venting.

Selective listeners

As mentioned, your supervisor may be the first to know simply for you to be able to take some time off to handle the logistics. Other than this person, you really need to be selective in deciding whom to tell.

Does everyone around your office need to know immediately? Do you expect everyone to respect your privacy? If the answer to these two questions is ''No'', don't rush to make unnecessary announcements. In fact, consider keeping your personal life out of the office, which should give you an emotion-free zone to distance yourself from your sadness or grief.

Setting limits

In cases where coworkers need to know because that is how things are typically done in your office, make your announcement and ask for privacy. If you've friends among coworkers, make sure to discuss the personal issues with them over lunch or other breaks, which will give them a clear cue regarding where you draw the line on the personal life.

Although these limits are meant to protect privacy, they also should protect your career. People who get too immersed in their personal problems may overlook how they are changing others' perceptions of their performance, productivity, focus and professional ambition. And the last thing you need when handling a personal crisis is to be passed over for a promotion or lose the job.

Sharing bad news

- Know your surrounding and reactions.

- Don't go too much into the details.

- Ask for privacy.

- Select who needs to know and why.

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Source: Rania Oteify, Special to

The writer, a former Gulf News Business Features Editor, is a Seattle-based editor