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Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Blending Personal Life With the Work Place

Today's workplace is a consistent fluid state of change. That is why people struggle so hard in managing it effectively. What was once appropriate is now forbidden. What was once a mistake is now considdered good managment.

The difficulty of managing, when the rules are continually changing, is that it is like trying to understand your wife's emotions. You might get lucky and guess right one day, but try the same thing again the next and you'll find yourself with a woman crying, angry or worse. I'm not being chauvenistic. Let's just face the fact that men are cluless when it comes to women, which illustrates my point that it is difficult to manage an office when rules continually change.

One such example of this is bringing your personal life to the work place. In the not to distant past it was considdered unprofessional to bring personal problems to work. "Check them at the door" was a common phrase used in employee training. Now, the workplace has in many regards replaced personal life, and so it has become a natural extension to discuss personal problems, struggles and successes with others at work. In larger corporations this isn't such a big deal because problems can be more easily solved by transferring to another department, but in a small business environment there's no place to hide from making a blunder in this area.

I'm not saying this is right or wrong to any extent, I'm simply observing the trend. What I do want to leave you with is several things to considder before dragging out your personal laundry, running a clothes line from your desk across the room to the water cooler and back into the copy room and proceeding to hang your intimate garments or your soiled briefs for all to see.

Here are four things to measure before you bring your personal life into the workplace.

1. Measure the risk before speaking. Understand that most people are going to be willing to listen to problems. Why? For some they want to help because they care. For others they want the dirt on you. Be cautious about who you talk to. Make sure you trust them before you spill it all.

2. Measure the consequences before speaking. Different than risk, where someone might use your personal information as an opportunity to sabbatoge your plans for promotion, consequenses deal more with how you will be perceived after you share the information by the person you shared it with. Again it goes back to trust, but because we mix personal life and work so closely, we often count coworkers as friends when they are simply friendly coworkers. If you're willing to share personal problems with coworkers, be ready for the possibility that they may perceive you differently afterward, and the dynamic at work may change.

3. Measure the potential benefits. The argument for combining personal with work is that it creates a stronger bond between everyone. As we let our guard down and expose ourselves to others it signifies trust, which often times can causes a response from others to do the same. It is a balancing act to keep it all from being personal, but sharing some personal fact has the potential of allowing someone to feel closer to you and strengthening a bond between you. I read somewhere that President George W. Bush would share some sort of personal secret with new people he meets and then watch to see what they do with the secret. If they let it out, he knew he couldn't trust them. If they kept it quiet, he knew he had a bond of trust.

4. Measure the other person's desire to hear what you have to say. While some people want to hear all the latest, juciest gossip about your life, not everyone does. Before unloading every last tear jerking detail about your life, considder that you are giong to be burdening the other person with that knowledge. It's never impolite to ask the question, "Could I share something personal with you?" But be prepared for an honest answer of "No" from time to time and don't count it as rude.