After getting a call from your lawyer at work, you might be tempted to turn to your co-workers and gripe about your acrimonious divorce proceedings.
Before you do, ask yourself whether sharing too much about your personal life could hurt you at work. Could it stand in the way of getting a promotion? Could it make you more vulnerable if there are layoffs?
What you reveal about your life can influence your bosses' and co-workers' perceptions of you and how competent you are. The subject matter may be just part of the problem - how much time you spend chatting rather than working could also be an issue.
WHEN SHARING HELPS: Watercooler talk can be a vital part of working. Some sharing contributes to a sense of camaraderie that makes a workplace a more pleasant and productive place to be. Often, though, it's about topics of general interest, not personal problems.
Still, because you're likely to have different relationships with different co-workers, the people you're close to may be willing to hear more of the details of your personal life. There are no hard-and-fast rules on what you can share, or with whom. It could be that the person you're most at ease with is your boss.
WHEN TO REFRAIN: Politics and religion are often taboo topics at work. Other subjects that should be off-limits include too much detail about your love life or nights out drinking.
What you might not realize is that even seemingly innocuous subjects could also cause problems. Your obsession with a single topic probably won't affect perceptions about your competency. But it could undermine you in more subtle ways, perhaps by hurting your rapport with co-workers. In turn, that could affect how much you enjoy heading into the office, and ultimately, your performance.
DEALING WITH AN OVERSHARER: You probably know people at work who give more details about their personal life than you want to hear. Apart from some inner groans, these oversharers generally don't cause any real harm.
If the chatter starts becoming a distraction, however, there are ways to cope: Don't engage them, and they'll eventually stop coming to you.
The tactic might seem cruel if someone is confiding in you about a serious matter, like a family illness. In that case, be frank in explaining how busy you are, and apologize that you can't give them the attention they so clearly need.
WHEN YOU MUST SHARE: There are of course times when you have a responsibility to share very personal information. If you're going through a divorce or wrestling with a chronic illness, you should talk to a supervisor about any time off or other accommodations you'll need.
Especially at a time when everyone is nervous about layoffs, you don't want to leave any doubt in your boss's mind about your priorities. When you're getting married, you need to tell your boss about the days off you need, but keep the conversation focused on what are likely to be his or her concerns.