Monday 19 August 2019

Beware the many dangers of oversharing overload

The Communicator

Gina London

The phone rang from the communications director of a certain organisation. Their CEO had asked her to call me to provide managerial development coaching for their incoming president. "Before I meet with the president myself," I began, "is there any particular behavioural trait this person exhibits which is prompting this call?"

"Well," the comms director hesitated. "He is obviously an expert in his field, he usually speaks well and is engaging with other people… but…" A pause.

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"Yes? Is there something else?" I urged.

"Well, he talks about everything. With everyone. With anyone. He is an 'oversharer'."

Ah. The oversharer. This person is not limited only to those hapless individuals who feel compelled to post every nitty-gritty detail about their life on their subsequently ridiculous social media accounts.

Clearly, this gaffe can attack even the highest-ranking professional, as my comms director was pointing out.

When you are unable to first make a thoughtful judgement about the level of intimate trust you have with another person before mindlessly blurting out some needless piece of information about yourself, you too are guilty of oversharing. In short, if you think you are oversharing, you probably are.

The risk is real. You risk embarrassing yourself, alienating others and generally sullying your reputation. Below, then, are my tips:

1 Take responsibility

No surprise here. Changing this behaviour is all up to you. You are in control of what comes out of your mouth when you speak.

I often suggest writing things down as a way to make any behavioural change issue clearer for people.

It's also a great way to track your progress if you keep notes throughout your efforts to transform.

Curtailing your tendency to overshare is no exception to this rule.

First, write down a statement that acknowledges you have the tendency. If you can remember, briefly recount a couple of times in the past when you have overshared.

What did you say? How did people visibly react? What was the immediate result? The lasting impact?

After you recount the incident, now write why it is important that you limit giving too much information away.

Thirdly, and most important of all, what will you do to prevent yourself from going off the rails again?

If you're asked by a colleague about your personal relationship, for example, and something indeed did take place, it doesn't mean you have to go into it with them.

Draft an elegant dodge. This is perfectly acceptable. You are not being interviewed by a reporter. Saying something like "I'd rather not get into it; I'm/we're working through things" answers a mountain of questions.

Practice giving your replacement line or lines many times out loud to generate the muscle memory you'll need to muscle through your desire to overshare. You don't want details of your personal life to distract from your ambition, plans or goals in the workplace.

I understand that you might be tempted here to refer me back to that president I was asked to work with. He clearly got ahead despite his oversharing.

But I would argue who knows how much more quickly he may have ascended otherwise. And, of course, the limits to your own trajectory also depend on what type of information you overshare. Staying vigilant is a good guideline.

2 Maintain control after-hours

Some jobs involve after-hours networking, receptions and assorted hospitality events for clients. During these, there's often alcohol involved. I'm calling again for you to take responsibility. Stay clear of the booze - or limit yourself to just one glass of prosecco. Keep your professional guard up.

If you're tasked with greeting the managing director of a new organisation that may be a prospective client for your company, keep your conversation high-level. Asking more questions of the other person is a great way to prevent you from filling in the conversation gaps with unwanted news about yourself.

3 Rein in your social media use

Finally, think before you post. Once, while scrolling my general Twitter feed, I came across a post that instantly brought to my mind a clever quip. At least, I thought it was extremely clever until I gave a little thought to what I was about to do.

What was the purpose of me typing this quip? Just because it popped into my head wasn't good enough. Who was I aligning myself with in the thread of tweets? Was the sarcastic comment and commenter that kicked the thread off really something or someone to whom I wanted to be connected?

Remember, your brand is not only perceived through your own tweets, but by those you like or retweet. Case in point, the American tweeter-in-chief.

In addition to Twitter, if you're linking with co-workers on platforms beyond LinkedIn, you need to pay close attention to what you say and what photos you post.

It's not breaking news that plenty of people have lost their jobs over posts they made off-hours and away from work premises.

You are what you post. So, when it comes to oversharing, take the advice from my dear mother, who told me (to just about any question I had): "When in doubt, don't."

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