It's no secret that establishing rapport with colleagues in the workplace can collectively cultivate a more collaborative company culture.
In fact, research suggests that our brains respond positively to people with whom we havea personal connections. As such, we're kinder with them, and we try harder and perform better.
But there's a difference between getting to know your colleagues and knowing too much about them. Oversharers in the workplace can make the environment an uncomfortable one — even if it's unintential.
Here's how to deal with oversharers at work (and how to tell if you're one of them).
1. Don't engage with them.
Do your best not to engage with oversharers. It's usually easy to spot them in the workplace, as you'll often find them coupled up with other colleagues gossiping or having uncomfortable conversations. If you work with headphones on or with your office door closed, however, it's evermore difficult for a colleague with a tendency to overshare to approach you.
Of course, be sure to be approachable for all work-related concerns. You don't want to isolate yourself from the rest of the office or make yourself seem unreliable or unavailable — but, when it comes to anything outside of work talk, shut yourself off from it. You're not at the office to engage in chitter chatter; you're there to work.
In the same vein, if your colleagues are actively avoiding contact with you outside of discussing work matters, it may be because you've had a tendency to overshare with them. Be conscious of your surroundings — how you're making others feel at work, which is often evident by how they act around you.
2. Politely let them know you must get back to your work.
If a colleague begins oversharing with you, politely let them know that you need to get back to your work and you cannot continue the conversation. Of course, being direct can feel awkward, but you can word it as simple as, "Ah, I actually have so much work I need to get to today, but we can catch up another time!" Chances are, the more you push off these conversations, the less they'll try to have them with you.
Again, if others are turning down your questions and probes, it may be because they don't necessarily want to dive into conversation with you. It may be a conversation that makes them uncomfortable to have in the workplace, and they may not want to hear all the information you have to share.
3. Redirect the conversation.
If a conversation takes a turn that makes you uncomfortable, do your best to redirect the conversation. For example, if a colleague starts talking about their personal relationship difficulties at the office, and you don't want your boss reading your emails thinking that you're spending company time discussing their failing marriage, you can do your best to redirect the conversation to be more appropriate for the workplace. Maybe you reply with, "I'm sorry to hear that you are struggling — I'm sure it takes a toll on your work, too. Why don't we try to focus on that today? What's on tap for you?" Then you can dive into the work you, too, have to get done — and then get to it!
If you notice that others veer from topics that you bring up, as well, do your best not to bring up those topics anymore. They're probably changing conversation because they don't want to have that initial conversation. It's important to be socially aware in this way.
4. Respectfully decline meetups outside of the workplace.
If a colleague who has a tendency to overshare invites you for lunch or drinks outside the office, respectfully decline. You don't want to put yourself in a position that may lend itself to TMI. You don't need to be best friends with all of your coworkers; some relationships better left as merely professional, workplace connections.
If others in the office are always declining your invites, it may be a sign that you're the oversharer in the workplace. Do your best to work making others feel comfortable in conversation with you again, so that you don't have to worry about missing out on otherwise valuable connections.
5. Refer them to a professional.
If your colleague keeps coming to you with their personal issues — their relationship problems, their health complications, their career apprehensions, etc. — consider referring them to a professional. Let them know that you aren't equipped to field such serious concerns, but that you know the human resources department or another issue-specific organization can certainly help them.
Similarly, if you find yourself spilling all of your personal problems to colleagues at work, it's best to seek out professional services for yourself. A work-life balance is important, but you shouldn't necessarily mix the two.
AnnaMarie Houlis is a feminist, a freelance journalist and an adventure aficionado with an affinity for impulsive solo travel. She spends her days writing about women’s empowerment from around the world. You can follow her work on her blog, HerReport.org, and follow her journeys on Instagram @her_report, Twitter @herreport and Facebook.