The workplace buzz around inclusive office culture has given rise to the phrase, “Bring your whole self to work.” This is an antidote to the dated philosophy that each employee should develop a work persona that is effectively all business, 100 percent professional, 100 percent of the time.
While you shouldn’t have to wear a mask to go to the office, my thought is to tread lightly with bringing your whole self, particularly if you’re short-tempered, incredibly opinionated about politics, or distinctly not a morning person. Not everyone has carte blanche to freely reveal their idiosyncrasies.
Let’s face it: One person’s obsession can be another person’s aversion.
Beyond that, bosses and coworkers have long memories. It may be hard to take back a tirade or a confidence you should not have shared in the first place. While allowing yourself to be vulnerable in front of your colleagues will enable them to trust you more, you still need to take care when choosing to reveal different sides of yourself to your coworkers.
Take stock of your eccentricities and what effect displaying them at the office may have on the rest of the staff. For example:
You show an overzealous interest in politics.
In our divided society, it’s hard to escape discussions about politics. But in every blue state, there are Republicans; in every red state, there are Democrats. Similarly, in every office, there will be those who agree with your political stance and those who staunchly disagree. Conversations about politics are likely to get heated—and why make an enemy of a coworker with whom you need to work closely? Follow political podcasts on your own time and remember always: you’re at the office to solve problems, not create them.
You go ga-ga over a pet.
Sure, love for animals is nearly universal, and sharing a video of your puppy stumbling with an oversized toy is sure to elicit smiles. Pets helped many of us cope with the recent Pandemic, and your pet is particularly cute. However, you may want to put a mental leash on your anecdotes if your tendency to recount your pet’s antics has coworkers ducking for cover whenever you approach.
You give a regular morning sportscast.
Believe it or not, everyone isn’t as passionate about football, baseball, basketball, soccer, professional tennis, volleyball, or pickleball as it would seem. While some may play along, you need to be aware that a proportion of officemates may not know (or care) whether the replacement quarterback is likely to send the team into a freefall. If you see your colleagues’ eyes glaze, give yourself a time-out.
You report the minutiae of an upcoming event.
Certain milestones are exciting! So, it’s only natural that some occasions from your personal life will spill over into your professional life. Wedding planning often becomes all-consuming for people in the wedding party. But be assured, the Bride-Zilla-Esque particulars grow old quickly to those removed from the occasion.
You crown yourself “Chief Recycling Enforcer.”
Kudos to the companies who put in recycling bins and do their part to not add to overflowing landfills and ocean gyres of plastics. (And, if your company isn’t one of them, you may want to chat with someone in HR who can help change the corporate culture to address recycling.) But if you become fanatical about the packaging of your coworker’s take-out food or a recyclable water bottle that ends up in the trashcan, your fervor may not win you many friends.
You draw attention to a food obsession.
A person’s struggles with diet and weight loss should never be taken lightly. But the difficulty appears when you publicly announce to those at the office that you’ve started a new diet, and consequently direct attention to your food intake. Suddenly every trip to the vending machine or any candy wrapper in your trashcan is an invitation for others to bestow their verdict on your degree of self-discipline and willpower, or worse—feel guilty about their lack of self-discipline and willpower. Suddenly everyone feels bad about themselves. Kind of a downer.
You play the armchair naturopath.
Zealots who espouse natural remedies over pharmaceuticals sincerely believe they have others’ best interests at heart. But when those around you are facing important healthcare choices, the last thing your coworkers want is a lecture about alternative medicine versus traditional Western medicine.
I believe balancing being vulnerable and sharing “too much information” about yourself at the office is essential. Among your coworkers, you don’t have to refrain from sharing friendly banter about the highlight of your weekend or some fun specifics about your hunt for a new apartment. But it may serve you well to tuck away some parts of your personal life until you determine how they will be received if, and when, you choose to disclose them.
Vicky Oliver is a leading career development expert and the multi-best-selling author of five books, including Bad Bosses, Crazy Coworkers & Other Office Idiots (Sourcebooks, 2008), 301 Smart Answers to Tough Interview Questions (Sourcebooks 2005), named in the top 10 list of “Best Books for HR Interview Prep,” and 301 Smart Answers to Tough Business Etiquette Questions (Skyhorse, 2010). She is a sought-after speaker, seminar presenter, and popular media source, having made over 901 appearances in broadcast, print, and online outlets. Vicky Oliver teaches essay writing at the New York Writers Workshop. For more information, visit vickyoliver.com.
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