How Much Of Yourself Should You Reveal At Work?

Coffee Talk

Photo: Flickr/Anna Levinzon

Increasingly, people demand that work accommodates their personal lives. Which means they are invariably faced with the question: How much of myself should I reveal at work?It’s a delicate question. Reveal too much, and you risk being a bore. Reveal too little, and people won’t feel connected to you. Keith Ferrazzi, author of Never Eat Alone, contends that people need to show some vulnerability, so that colleagues feel they know you and can make a meaningful contribution to your life. The trick is to not be too vulnerable–that will make you look lame and not worth others’ time.

So how do you show vulnerability, without looking lame? Some tips on manage this balancing act:

1. Remember most of your life is boring to others.

People have an inflated idea of how much others care about the details of their lives. Most details of most peoples’ lives are incredibly boring – which is why millions of people have no one reading their blog and why so few people score book deals for memoirs. For example, if you’re a woman over the age of 35 and you had Botox, don’t tell your coworkers. No one cares. Virtually every woman in mid-career who works in media is using it. It’s interesting if you don’t use it and think your career in media will be OK.

2. Don’t keep secrets.Early in my career, I used to hide the parts of me that seemed not to fit in. For example, I was just out of college with very little money, and I was buying my clothes at thrift shops. I feared people would think I didn’t have my act together because I wasn’t buying the kinds of clothes most of the other people bought.

Now, 20 years later, I would never bother hiding where I bought my clothes. I have more confidence than that.

If you are keeping part of yourself a secret, ask yourself why. Because a secret is usually most harmful to the person who is keeping it. Other people can tell you’re being inauthentic and will feel less comfortable around you. And if you come clean about who you are, you’re more likely to be the kind of person you want–and be more successful. (Note, this is especially true for people who are gay. Those who are out of the closet earn more than those who are closeted.)

So test yourself. Each time you feel yourself wavering on the real you, ask yourself, Why is this an important secret to keep? Odds are you’ll push yourself harder to change to be your best self.

3. Tell only what’s interesting.

No-holds-barred talk is boorish on a date and it’s boorish at work. People are not interested in the minutiae of your personal life. People just want to know what’s interesting. So tell that!

Talk about yourself in a way that is engaging and open. But ultimately, be interesting. That’s what makes people want to be your friend. And workplace friends are what matters – regardless of how much you reveal about yourself. Tim Rath at Gallup finds that it’s nearly impossible to hate your job if you have two close friends at work.  So your goal should be to be vulnerable enough when you talk with people so that you will be able to make the type of connections that make work fun.

4. Show the real you by focusing on what you’re good at.

I know you want people to know all the quirky, interesting things about you. But the truth is that the most interesting and appealing part of you comes out when you’re doing your best work. Let people see you in action. Talk about what engages you and your passion will have a positive effect on people around you, whether or not they know a ton about you.

Doing great work and being a solid co-worker is a way to reveal to people what you’re strengths are, what your weaknesses are, and that you care about others. Maybe this is why people who do great work get promotions so quickly: Because they reveal what others want to see when they are trying to make connections at work.

In any case, so often people feel that they can’t be their true selves at work because there is no forum for that. But the truth is that you have plenty of opportunities to reveal your best self. If only you will commit to doing what you’re good at and work hard at it, you can make positive impact in the workplace.

This post originally appeared at BNET.

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