A reader sent me the following question:
"How do you deal with a co-worker that shares too much information? I like to be polite and friendly with my co-workers, but one co-worker has taken this as an invitation to tell me everything about her life. What should I do?”
Anyone who has heard a horrid tale of a very personal doctor’s visit around the water cooler can relate to this reader’s inquiry. My advice would be to try to cut the conversations short. And never, ever, under any circumstance ask a follow up question.
You: “How are you today TMI Timmy?”TMI: “I haven’t been feeling too well lately.”
This is your crossroads – your fork in the road. How you proceed from here will dictate if you end up down a road filled with colonoscopies and marital troubles.
My guess is that, up to this point, you have asked a follow up question such as “I’m sorry to hear that – what is wrong?”
SNAP – That is the sound of TMI Timmy’s trap closing in on you. This is what TMI Timmy lives for. You have to cut it off at the pass.
An alternative ending would be for you to say something like, “I’m sorry to hear that. Let’s get this meeting/phone call/ problem taken care of so you can concentrate on getting well.” You’ve shown compassion, but made it clear you want to focus on work.
This question of what and how much to share with your co-workers is an ongoing battle between being approachable and friendly, yet, professional. I personally try to set up boundaries at work about how much I share until I really get to know someone. Some of my best friends I have met through work, but we became really good friends once we weren’t working on the same projects. I try to avoid a situation where I am facing losing a friendship or losing my job.
However, I can’t end this post without making a confession. I have fallen into a TMI Timmy trap myself. I was waiting for a meeting to start with a couple of my work friends and one co-worker. The conversation evolved into a discussion about our favorite TV shows. I opened a window into my slight obsession with crime shows. In fact, I may have outlined, in detail, the way to commit the perfect murder. For some reason, my co-worker found this very disturbing. He may have said, “I really wish you hadn’t shared that.” Yep – stick that “Hello My Name is TMI Timmy” right here.
What about you? Have you dealt with a situation like this? Have you caught yourself being a TMI Timmy?