Regardless of job title or industry, the work world is full of challenging situations—both on the job and around it—and those among us who climb the career ladder fastest and achieve success always seem to be able to navigate these challenges effectively. This often requires an uncanny ability to correctly read the terrain of a tricky situation, use sound judgment and logic to determine a course of action, and deploy the right strategies for making it through unscathed.
Among these sticky situations is the question of how close we should allow ourselves to get to our colleagues. Although we spend a significant portion of our waking lives at work and amongst our coworkers—for some of us, as much or more time than we spend at home—the question of how personal we should allow our workplace relationships to get doesn’t have a quick and easy answer. Of course, not all relationships are created equal, and this holds true for those we forge at work—the rules for how we connect with our bosses, peers, and subordinates aren’t one size fits all.
Among the trickier and stickier of these is how close we should allow ourselves to get to our bosses and whether or not we should let ourselves get comfortable enough to talk to them about our personal problems. It’s not a question with an easy yes or no answer.
Conventional wisdom says that whenever possible, you should try to keep things between you and your boss in a strictly professional mode. All those personal things orbiting your life at any given moment—the ones you share with friends and family without reservation—are best kept out of the workplace. Sure, sometimes the line gets blurred and for good reason—for example, when you have a personal obligation (like a doctor’s appointment) that requires you to miss work time you have to let your boss know about it—but in all other instances you shouldn’t talk to your boss about personal problems. The thinking here is that your professional and personal worlds should be kept separate whenever possible and that oversharing with your boss, especially regarding things that may be viewed or interpreted negatively, may reflect poorly on you, adversely affect your relationship with them, and limit current and future opportunities for growth.
That said, it can be argued that the old rules of the work world have changed over the years, and that includes the traditional ways of viewing the employer-employee relationship. Some feel that these days it’s okay to develop a deeper and more personal relationship with your coworkers—including your boss—and that it helps foster teamwork and an atmosphere that’s conducive for deeper collaboration. This includes sharing your personal problems with your boss—after all, aren’t we all just people with a wide range of experiences, triumphs, and challenges under our belts, and that acknowledging this simply brings us all closer together? It’s certainly a viewpoint worth further investigation.
So where does this leave us as we try to determine if it’s okay to talk to our bosses about our personal problems? Well, the smart money when it comes to answering this question just might just be right in the middle—realizing that while we can share snippets of our personal lives with our bosses and coworkers in an effort to forge stronger bonds with those in our professional networks, we should always be aware of the potential dangers and pitfalls of oversharing. The key is to stop, think, and use sound logic and judgment when deciding precisely what to share and what to keep for yourself.
In the end, there are no universal guidelines for how to develop relationships with our bosses, as all bosses are not created equal. So, when asking yourself this important question, it’s a good idea to think about your current work situation and environment and then proceed with care and caution.