Self disclosure in the work place

by Mike M. Griffith

Having self disclosure at work can be dangerous – it can even very easily get you terminated. Self disclosure is also necessary and important. So, why is it a good thing? – and when is it a bad thing? – and how do you do it? – and when don’t you do it? – and what if others don’t open up to you? – and what if you discover that you have opened up too much?

I have, deep within me, as a part of my current core self, an approval addiction, low self-esteem, and a need to talk about it. These variable don’t bode well in the workplace. I’m somewhat of an anomaly because I can interview quite well and can come across as very confident and successful. Well, indeed I am confident and successful, at times, and have actually been very confident and successful for long stretches in the past. So, whatever my physiological and emotional makeup, I don’t do myself any favors when I let on to others that I’m worried, unsure, or insecure. Self-disclosure is a strong way to grow trust among peers and is instrumental in building relationships. However, I’ve experienced time and time again that others have a more positive view of me than I do of myself. Often the discrepancy is large.  There is a clear pattern I’ve detected when beginning a new job. Within several weeks, as my comfort level increases, I begin, unwittingly, to paint the picture I hold of myself for those I work with, and even during interactions with customers. Eventually, the people I work with begin to buy in to the image I create for them, or at the very least they see me for who I am at the time: a talented person with confidence issues.  My self disclosure takes the form of sharing my thoughts and feelings, good or bad, in real-time. I believe I do this, at least in great part, because of a natural impatience and unrest I possess – the ADHD part of me. In other words, If I were an extremely confident person people would hear about that too. I am still learning how to stay in the middle, emotionally, and to be okay with that middle ground. You might say that I’ve discovered where I need to mature emotionally - the place where I need to grow my E.Q. – my emotional intelligence. 

This approval addiction and lack of confidence is so ingrained in me, so intertwined into my personality, that I need daily, hourly, and even minute-to-minute reminders to not be self-defeating. If I don’t keep positive affirmations dangling in front of my brain at all times then, and I mean AT ALL TIMES, then my tendency is to ruminate, be negative, seek approval, compare myself to others, and so on and so on. It is maddening.

Summarizing to this point, I’d say this is a two-pronged issue: 1) my deeply seeded low self-esteem and approval addiction, and 2) my ADHD characteristics; including being very impatient and battling emotional highs and lows - almost in a clinical manic/depressive manner. The latter could also be stated as lacking a steady, healthy emotional middle ground.

Self disclosure in the workplace has served me well too. I often build relationships more quickly than other people. I believe that healthy self-disclosure (not a continuous, ill-timed, spewing forth of every thought and feeling) shows a willingness to be vulnerable that many people either admire or are drawn to. This can build trust within workplace relationships, which is important to job satisfaction, performance, and longevity with a company.  I have had the opportunity to explore these issues, and to grow in them, as a direct result of having several different jobs over the last 5 or 6 years. This is a very real benefit to the unsettled career and financial situation I (we) have faced.

My plan – my goal, in going forward, is to completely avoid openly expressing self-doubt, concern, or any negative commentary to coworkers, superiors and customers. I will not get what I need, or what I want, in doing so. What I will do is be myself, believe in myself, and do my best. Now, that is some good old down-home mom’s advice!  Those are things I can commit to doing. Those are things I can accomplish - and as I do, what do you want to bet, that good things will happen?!

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