Privacy: Protecting Your Space and Sanity at Work
In the absence of information, people fill in dirt.
Original Author Unknown (heard second hand from Ruth Porat, Google CFO)
People that are close to me know that I’m a pretty private person. I’ve always been fiercely protective with certain aspects of my life that I truly care about including my family and relationships. That isn't to say that if you ask me a question, I won’t answer honestly but I usually won’t go out my way to share information. I think this gives some people the impression that I’m aloof or cold, but in reality, it’s the exact opposite. I care very deeply for people and try to give the respect of privacy that I want from them. If asked, I will lend a listening ear but I don't tend to pry into the affairs of others.
My approach really goes against the grain in this age of oversharing, where a large number of people find solace in divulging everything from the most sensitive of topics to the mundane. To me, oversharing invites opinions, weird behaviors, and intrusive questions. As I’ve matured, I’ve realized that there is a balance to strike, especially at work. If you don't share anything about yourself, people will unfortunately create a narrative for you and that creates a whole nother problem. In this society, being closed off breeds mistrust and the unintended consequence of drawing even more attention and scrutiny towards you.
One of the best pieces of professional advice that I’ve received is to “give them just enough information about you but only what you’re comfortable with” and that way you can shape your story. Besides office chit-chat, a major potential landmine is your social media presence. For instance, if your co-worker or manager asked to connect over Facebook or Instagram, what would you do? These are private forums where, theoretically, you should be free to be yourself (we’ll talk about this false sense freedom another time). One way to get around this potentially awkward request is to have two accounts—one for friends and family and another for co-workers and associates. This provides a wall of privacy and allows you to better control your brand and preserve your privacy.
Like everything else in life, you need to find what balance means to you and where to draw your boundaries. My life has been much more serene and happy since I’ve figured this out. If you happen to be struggling with a particularly curious (aka intrusive) person, you may want to give it a try also. Good luck!