Building Trust at Work with Appropriate Self-Disclosure

You don’t want to be known for TMI, but you also don’t want people to think of you as a tough cookie!

Have you ever felt uncomfortable when a co-worker over-shared about his personal life at work? Or have you worked with a tough cookie–a person who is hard to get to know because she refuses to open up or tell you anything about herself? Knowing when to self-disclose is an important skill because it builds strong communication and relationships at work

To build competency in self-disclosure, you need to:

  1. Understand the different sides of self-disclosure, and
  2. Identify when self-disclosure is appropriate (and when it isn’t).

Different Sides of Self-Disclosure

People who are skilled at self-disclosure are able to communicate openly and authentically in appropriate ways. They do not conceal or distort inner feelings, thoughts, or perceptions. They tend to be influential at work, because the right amount of self-disclosure benefits personal relationships. They build trust and engender cooperation.

Over-Sharing Looks Like This

People who lack self-disclosure skills tend to share too much or share too quickly, or both–to the point of making people feel uncomfortable. Here are the behaviors to avoid:

  • Telling your boss your insecurities disclosureat the moment you are feeling ignored or rejected by her; when you are feeling anxious, it’s not a good time to share.
  • Sharing unnecessary details about your finances.
  • Blabbing about information that isn’t yours to blab about, such as your partner’s or your children’s idiosyncrasies.
  • Personal information that involves private body parts, a.k.a. “locker room talk,” such as the unique places you are pierced or tattooed. No one at work needs to know this stuff. No exceptions.

Excessive self-disclosure can harm your relationships and your reputation. You can hurt the feelings or reputations of others. You can make people feel uncomfortable, possibly to the point of them reporting you for sexual harassment.

Under-Sharing Looks Like This

People who don’t disclose at all, on the other hand, keep to themselves all of the time. They like to keep work and personal relationships separate to the point where they are unable to foster good working relationships. In fact, they don’t get to know and build trust with others at all.

When to Self-Disclose

People on both ends of the self-disclosure spectrum are frustrated by the lack of positive results based on what, to them, seems like appropriate behavior. The good news–you can build self-disclosure competencies, and everyone benefits when you do!

The best way to build skills is to practice. We gave you some examples about WHAT not to disclose at work. Given the fact that you do want to build trust and cooperation at work, there are times when it’s appropriate to share information about yourself. But you also have to determine WHEN it is okay to disclose. Here is a list of tips:

  • Make sure it is reciprocal. If you are disclosing personal information at a rate and level that the other person is not mirroring, slow down. You are likely making that person uncomfortable.
  • Increase the amount of information you disclose in relatively small increments over time, as you get to know the other person and the relationship develops. Don’t rush in and unburden yourself to people you barely know. Use a professional counselor or therapist for that. Don’t expect your co-workers to oblige your need to bare your soul.
  • Be aware of your timing. Don’t share at inopportune or insensitive times, such as when the other person is busy with work or preoccupied with their own personal issues.
  • Make sure the risk you are taking by disclosing is reasonable. If someone repeats what you say, and it could cost you your job or reputation, find another, safer outlet.

For more information on how building competencies in appropriate self-disclosure can benefit you as a veterinary professional, invite Shawn McVey to speak to your team. The presentation is called “Bring Your Whole Self to Work: Lessons from the Johari Window,” and you can find a description of it and Shawn’s other presentations in his catalog here.

Shawn Loves Your Comments!