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Too Much Information: Things Not to Tell Your Boss

We live in a world where everyone we know is compelled to broadcast every aspect of their lives to anyone and everyone who will listen. Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Reddit, Instagram have become this world’s bullhorn, and we are all sharing our lives loud and proud; sometimes, in far more vivid detail than we might have ever considered a mere five or ten years ago. Whether it’s because we have an overdeveloped sense of importance in the world, or we crave connection with others, we are now treated to details that we wouldn’t ordinarily seek out.

For example, on a recent consulting job, I overheard one employee confide in her supervisor that things were getting really difficult at home because her elementary-aged child had a stomach bug and her dog delivered a litter of puppies, both situations unfortunately interfered with a long overdue evening of intimacy with her husband. This woman was far more descriptive about these events than I will be here, but suffice it to say that she confided these things in great detail with zero regard for the fact that she was standing in the middle of a break room in front of at least one perfect stranger (me) and several other co-workers.

Why do people share such personal details?

One explanation might be the overwhelming usage of social media has simply blurred boundaries between people and made it increasingly difficult for some to discern when it’s ok to divulge certain details and when it’s not. Others might argue that generations X and Y were raised to believe that they are truly more interesting and special than those who have gone before them, and that they are entitled to have everything they say heard and appreciated. Still others attribute the situation to a need to connect. We spend most of our waking hours at work, so we want to make it feel as much like home as possible. This translates to more oversharing than professionalism.

It’s important to build relationships with people, especially when you spend a great deal of time with them, and in the service you have to build a great deal of trust. When you transition into the civilian workplace, it’s important to recognize the signs of oversharers and even more important to set some personal rules so you don’t become one. Before you speak, ask yourself:

  • Does what I’m about to say benefit my career?
  • Who am I talking with? Is it a boss/client/co-worker or a friend/family member?
  • What do I want to happen as a result of sharing this information?
  • Would less information be better?

Here’s a test:

You hit a grand slam in your recreation league softball game last night, delivering a league trophy to your team for the first time ever. You and your buddies celebrated over a few too many drinks last night and today you feel the effects. You’re about to bemoan your hangover to your boss, who expects you to present quarterly numbers at the staff meeting in a half hour.

Or how about this one:

Your favorite niece had a very difficult labor and delivery with her first child last weekend. A colleague asks about your new great niece. You are about to blow her mind with a step-by-step description of the child’s entry into the world. Over lunch.

In both these situations, less is more. No boss will ever tell you that their department functions more efficiently when they know about each others’ binge drinking habits. No colleague truly wants to know about the weird dream you had last night. When in doubt, rely on good manners and common sense and you’ll be just fine.

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