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The Tendency to Overshare. . .

An old Laurence Fellows illustration that works well with today's discussion.  Keep things cordial but professional in your work life, and avoid the now common TMI Syndrome, the tendency to share far too much personal information in a misguided attempt to bond with supervisors and co-workers.


In a society apparently more concerned with 'keeping it real' than in keeping itself polite and pleasant, false bonhomie has become epidemic in virtually all walks of life.  

Collins English Dictionary defines 'bonhomie' as happy, good-natured friendliness.  False bonhomie is, naturally, the opposite.  I understand the term as insincere social interaction, manifesting itself most often in the tendency to behave in an overly familiar way upon meeting people for the very first time, and/or to overshare with people you don't know well.  And maybe even those you would rather not know well.  In a nutshell then, false bonhomie is the habit of behaving and carrying on with others as though best friends only two minutes after being introduced.  Hyperbole, of course, but you take my point I hope. 

The tendency of people to do this seems ubiquitous in 2018, at least here in the United States.  I've spent quite a bit of time over the years in other cultures (Scandinavia, Britain, Germany, and Mexico), and while many people there smile, are polite, pleasant, and even fairly relaxed at first and during subsequent meetings, it nevertheless takes time to become close friends rather than casual acquaintances.  To the credit of almost everyone I have ever met from another point on the globe outside the U.S., it does not seem typical for people to talk incessantly, attempt to fill every brief silence, and blurt out voluntarily all of the unsavory little details of their lives.  Friendship and the related level of intimacy take time.  Not so in our culture and society it seems.  

The propensity that so many have for oversharing is also found in the workplace.  In the office, in the stockroom, in line at the bank, behind the customer service counter in retails esatblishments, at the supermarket checkout lane, etc. it is not unusual to overhear, or even be included in (shudder), conversations of which you would rather not be a part.  The sort of exchanges I mean include so called 'war stories,' in which people brag about how drunk or stoned they were at some point in the past, stupid things they have done in childhood or their (extended) adolescence, or verbal and/or physical altercations they have had.  As though any of that is fit for public consumption.  My personal favorite is overhearing or being told directly about medical and especially intestinal issues from which people suffer, which invariably seem to involve lactose or gluten intolerance.

Um. . .  Yuck!

Why, oh, why is there a compulsive need to share these kinds of details with others?  Have we really become that crass as a whole?  Are there really so many socially awkward and/or insecure people out there who think this sort of sharing is somehow more genuine?  Do people really just put their brains and mouths on autopilot, or do they mean to bore, offend, and even disgust others with the unsavory minutia of their private lives?  Rhetorical questions, you understand.  No need to answer. 

Suffice to say, it's really better to keep stuff like that to yourself.  Heaven forbid that we advocate chilly Anglo-Saxon or Scandinavian reserve here at Classic Style, but sometimes it's exactly what is called for.  After all, there are certain things best kept between you and your healthcare provider.  I'd wager that even your spouse or significant other doesn't really want to hear all of the details of your relationship with your intestinal tract.  Frankly, I'll take WASPy reserve over the alternative any day if it means we can talk about something else besides 'cute' (grand)child or pet stories, or how sloppy drunk someone was in the hotel lobby the night before his or her extended group of  'friends' flew home from Las Vegas.

All of this is just a small part of our now common tendency to overshare, something that is a growing problem in the business world according to many HR professionals.  I've actually done a bit of research on this in my work teaching the current crop of university undergrads, and there is, among too many entry level hires in the 21st century, a marked tendency toward volunteering too much information (TMI) about their non-professional lives and activities.  This pinpoints so called Millennials, of course, but it would be a mistake to think that oversharing is limited solely to those born between the early 1980s and early 2000s.  Everyone else seems to be blurting out the most personal details of their lives for the world to overhear too.

Understand that there is a time and place for everything.  Sure, times and standards change, but loudly filling the air with observations about past romantic partners, exploits involving drugs or alcohol, medical, or intestinal stuff is uncalled for and hardly stylish, gentlemen.  Oversharing really isn't that far removed from things like loud mobile phone conversations, or the habitual spewing of obscenities in public spaces.  All three habits are obnoxious at best and really things that we ought to do our utmost to recognize in ourselves and curtail.  Of course, that implies a degree of self-reflection and self-control, and why in the world should we want or expect anyone to possess and exercise those qualities?

Returning, though, to the related concepts of false bonhomie and oversharing, it's far better to maintain a slight air of mystery about yourself and your life outside of work.  Bonding on a deep personal level with coworkers is not necessary to function and perform pleasantly and efficiently in whatever line of work you engage.  In other words, your boss and co-workers are not your buddies, your bros, your besties, your BFF's, or your homies.  Don't expect them to be so, don't make them so.  It risks causing awkward situations, or even full-blown problems, at some point down the road.  And as my maternal grandmother pointed out a number of times during my formative years, familiarity breeds contempt.  

I dare say she was right.  A smidgen of reserve is a good thing outside the home.  It's a good thing in the home.  A valuable point many in society need to relearn  in our overly casual age where 'slob' has become the medium of personal expression for legions of men and women.  There has to be middle ground somewhere though.  Let's nudge the pendulum back in the other direction just a wee bit, and rein ourselves in, eh?  To put it another way, and as my maternal grandfather might have barked at a buck private decades ago, "Suck in that gut, solider!" 

To sum up, let's all cultivate a bit more self-regulation and restraint in public, which includes the hours we spend at work.  It's time to put down that fourth glazed doughnut (you've already had three) and get back on task.  Your co-workers and supervisors, some of them at least, will appreciate it.  We really don't need (or want) to know all of the gory details from your high school and college years.  Such war stories will not help the team in your area at work to finish the proposal or report with which you have been tasked.

-- Heinz-Ulrich von B.

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