The power of self-disclosure
Disclosing one's emotions and thoughts to people, if done with caution, can be great to build strong relationships
Self Disclosures are fundamental to human relationships. Conversations are a major driver through which we stay connected to people at work places. When people eat, meet and spend major chunks of their wakeful hours together they are bound to get in off-task conversations. This leads to personal Disclosure - verbal revelations of one’s thoughts, emotions, values, preferences and experiences encompassing many facets of one’s professional and personal life. There could be a range of reasons why people disclose. Take Radha who loves to narrate stories from her earlier work places which depicts people idiosyncrasies. These tales are mainly aimed at sharing a light moment. Ashish on the other hand loves to flaunt his closeness with the boss and is full of fanciful stories about the boss’s preferences from soaps to soap operas. While Sara chooses to disclose only when she wants endorsement for her behavior, Priya would always disclose to people who she recognizes as a mean to reach the ears of some significant people in the organizations. Thus disclosures can be done for numerous reasons from self portrayal to self validation.
Disclosures: Credit or Debit?
Empirical evidence shows that self disclosures create an environment of trust, openness and genuineness among dialogue-partners. It also provides a social mirror to gauge the social precision of their and others’ behavior and develop deeper relations beyond official tasks. Take Sheila, a fund manager at a midsized firm, who believes that self disclosures help her “detoxify” and create new energies to take on business challenges. On the other hand such disclosures also run a risk of creating negative impressions or overgeneralizations for the discloser. It can make you an unnecessary subject of office gossip and collective ridicule. Thus self- disclosure is a doubled edged sword that has to be borne by the workplace warrior intelligently. So here is a Five A formula to manage workplace disclosures:
- Attend to the inner needs: Why do I disclose; to generate social support, for knowledge sharing, to provide solutions to others, to gain sympathy, to portray a positive me image, to build relations, to gain trust, to exemplify a value or behavior? Attending to our own needs and beliefs about personal disclosures becomes a starting point for genuine and productive revelations.
- Acknowledge the cultural nuances: Every organization is unique in terms of the culture, climate and the maturity of the people that make up this social milieu. Being alert to others’ discussions during lunches and meetings would help you acknowledge and estimate the readiness of co-workers to handle information in an adult like fashion. Imagine Harish mentioning that his closest friend is gay and happy about it. The change in the body language of all around the table makes Harish wonder if they are having doubts about his orientation. Surely it is Harish’s responsibility to judge the openness quotient of the workplace before talk about certain sensitive topics.
- Align the disclosure with task-goal: Any self disclosure that comes as a logical extension of a problem solving exercise or is relevant to the on-going discussion is appreciated more than one that steers the conversation away from the immediate task on hand. Such disclosure also helps to create an energized and active climate in task groups.
- Analyze the response of others: This is the single largest umbrella of skill set that makes or breaks the situation for you after disclosures. Emotional Intelligence demands that the best way to evaluate the impact of your disclosure on others is to be tuned to the body language, expressions and the words- both said and unsaid that follow your disclosures. All reactions that meet your revelations would decide whether it will help or harm to indulging in this practice in future or not
- Avoid too much too early: Often disclosures boomerang as a disclosure happens too early in the relationship. This can upset the impression formation phase and create biases for you. Disclosing hobbies, preferences, experiences and less intimate details are always welcomed in workplaces. However discussion of gender preferences, personal finances, legal hassles that you are going through, marital discords, HIV status, and details about mental illnesses may not be handled maturely by all. In fact such topics are best kept for very close one-to one dialogues rather than group interactions. A special word of caution for impulsive discloser’s who can share a lot and then worry about it getting held against them.
Thus self disclosures are a great way of creating intimate relationships at workplaces. But if mishandled they can also be roads to dismay.