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Great advice from The Lawyer Whisperer

September 4, 2016
Question

TMI

answer
Julie Q. Brush

Too. Much. Information.

Ever heard this phrase? If not, just ask your 16 year old daughter, son, niece, nephew or average kid in line at Starbucks. It’s a phrase commonly used when a person…overshares: Overshares detailed information about personal or professional issues with someone s/he may know…or not know much at all. The information communicated is often inappropriate in the context of a particular situation. Or it’s just plain ol’ inappropriate in any circumstance. Some high level categories include: Relationship problems, mental or physical health issues (large or small), marital problems, family issues, disclosure of confidential information, negative gossip, and personal quirks or idiosyncrasies.

It would seem obvious to stay clear of these types of risky subjects, right? Right. But in today’s professional world, “TMI” is popping up more frequently and is compromising candidacies, careers and reputations. So what drives the desire to divulge and why can it be so dangerous? Below are a few reasons:

  • The legal profession has evolved and will continue to evolve for the foreseeable future – which means there is a lot of change and uncertainty in the air. Change and uncertainty makes people – especially legal professionals, anxious and fearful. And this state of being can cloud the judgment of even the most intelligent and successful executives. What often results is a projection of those feelings or the need to talk or vent about them in a professional setting.
  • In this age of “connecting”, professionals strongly desire…and need to build rapport and strengthen relationships in the community. Some feel that revealing certain types of information about themselves helps build that bond. So they are less discriminating with what they share with others. While they may believe their communications are fruitful, in reality they undermine their best interests.
  • In addition, our technological world is littered with communication tools by which professionals can connect with one another. Tools like text messaging, email, Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn and of course that ancient device…the telephone make communicating fast and easy. But sometimes, there can be downside to such a great thing. When people are emotional, they can be impulsive – and use these tools impulsively as well. When this happens, the risk of saying something they’ll be sorry for later dramatically increases. A “something” they can’t erase, recall or undo.

It isn’t always easy to be “on our game” every minute of every professional day. Sometimes we’re grumpy, overtaxed, distracted, too busy or just too tired to be mindful of all the dos and don’ts of navigating the professional world. But some matters are best attended to at all times because the risks of neglect could prove too damaging. Oversharing doesn’t always end badly, but it certainly can. So before you engage in your next professional communications, pause for a moment and assess the following:

(1) Your audience

(2) The nature and context of your relationship

(3) The strength of your relationship

(4) Your level of familiarity

(5) Typical information exchanged historically

(6) How you’re feeling/your mood

(7) Potential consequences if particular information is shared.

After slowing down and making the assessment, you’ll be more cognizant of the professional boundaries and skilled in keeping your conversations safely within its lines.

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Comments

This is a great article. I don't think people realize how much "over-disclosure" can hurt their reputations. People should slow down and use good judgment about what they are saying to others.

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