In this special live episode, we share stories, research, and practical advice for strategic self-disclosure, and then take questions from the audience.
Katherine Phillips is a management professor at Columbia Business School.
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Our theme music is Matt Hill’s “City In Motion,” provided by Audio Network.
AMY BERNSTEIN: We’ve been making this show for a year now. We’ve bonded over the work for sure. We’ve come up with story ideas together, we’ve done interviews together, and we’ve written scripts together. But what’s bonded us for life are the conversations we have in the studio among ourselves before we start talking on the record. What we say to each other in that windowless, soundproof room is sometimes silly. It’s sometimes serious. And it’s almost always about our personal lives.
NICOLE TORRES: My roommate had LASIK. Like 10 years ago, and he hasn’t had to wear them, but it does like —
AMY BERNSTEIN: Are you referring to Philip as your roommate?
NICOLE TORRES: No, my ex-roommate. [LAUGHTER]
SARAH GREEN CARMICHAEL: And then I was driving home, and I drove by a salon, and it was open, and I was like, do you have time to take me right now —
AMY BERNSTEIN: Oh my God, Sarah. I have my haircuts planned for the next year.
SARAH GREEN CARMICHAEL: Oh, that’s great.
AMY BERNSTEIN: I actually plan my travel around them.
SARAH GREEN CARMICHAEL: We can cut loose because we know and trust each other. But we weren’t this close from the beginning. We built intimacy and camaraderie little by little, and it’s made us a happier, more effective team.[MUSIC]
NICOLE TORRES: You’re listening to Women at Work from Harvard Business Review. I’m Nicole Torres.
AMY BERNSTEIN: I’m Amy Bernstein.
SARAH GREEN CARMICHAEL: And I’m Sarah Green Carmichael. In this special episode, we’re talking about self-disclosure at work, and behind the microphone. We recorded this conversation live at the Werk It women’s podcast festival in New York City.
NICOLE TORRES: We talked about why sharing information about our personal lives, without oversharing, helps us build professional relationships. And we spent a lot of time on why those of us in the minority at work might hesitate to open up to our colleagues.
KATHERINE PHILLIPS: One of the things that I do, whenever I’m teaching, for instance, is I take about 15, sometimes 20 minutes at the beginning with my time with the group to let them get to know who I am.
NICOLE TORRES: Our guest expert was Katherine Phillips. She’s a professor of leadership and ethics at Columbia Business School. And our producer, Amanda Kersey, moderated the conversation.[APPLAUSE]
AMANDA KERSEY: Again, thank you, everybody, for coming. I am excited to be talking about this process of relationship building that we do to make this show. It’s an interesting process. There is so much that goes into it. And we’re going to be talking practically some about how self-disclosure at work can really benefit you and the projects that you’re working on, too. So with that, we’ll start. Kathy, could you talk about what some of the research says about self-disclosure in the workplace?
KATHERINE PHILLIPS: Yes, absolutely. So I’ve been doing research on diversity and inclusion in teams for the last 20 plus years. And one of the major findings in that literature is that diverse groups tend to be less cohesive than homogeneous ones. And so I actually started thinking about that, and took like two or three steps back to think about how do teams actually become cohesive? I mean, what is that? What is actual cohesion? And how do you build it? And so as we, I started having conversations about that with some colleagues of mine, we started looking at the literature, and we actually realized that a lot of what cohesion is, is actually relationship. It’s connection. It’s trust. It’s building a real relationship with the people that you work with. And that requires some self-disclosure. It means you have to be share things about yourself. And I had some personal experiences of my own that actually drove me to think about that, to think about how uncomfortable sometimes I was with sharing personal things about myself with my colleagues that I worked with every day, that I thought I trusted, that I thought I had great relationships with. Yet I found myself censoring some of the information that I was willing to share with them. And it gave me kind of the insight that I needed to understand a little bit more about how to build relationships across boundaries in the workplace, because I think it’s going to be super critical for helping those diverse teams reach their potential.
AMANDA KERSEY: Yes. You have this story that I was hoping you could tell briefly about when one of your colleagues asked you what you did over the weekend. Could you just tell everybody?
KATHERINE PHILLIPS: Yeah, OK, so this is the story that actually started this research stream. So this colleague is a colleague of mine still to this day. We’ve been colleagues for many, many years now. And I was having a birthday, and I was all excited about it. You know when your birthday falls on the weekend, how it’s like really, really exciting, like, it’s Friday, and I’ve got the whole weekend to celebrate my birthday. So everybody knew that it was my birthday. And so when I showed back up at work on Monday, all happy and you know, happy go lucky, my colleagues said, oh, how was your birthday? What did you do this weekend? How did it go? And I was like, oh, you know, we went out to dinner. I got together with some really good friends of mine that I hadn’t seen in years. We went out to dinner, and we went to a concert. And he was like, oh, a concert. Who did you go see? And I said, oh, you don’t, you wouldn’t know him. And you know, we had dinner at this great restaurant, and dah, dah, dah. And so I just kind of like swept under the rug who it was that I had gone to see. And it bothered me for a while, and I kept thinking to myself, why didn’t I want to share with him that I had gone to see Kirk Franklin, who is a gospel, an African-American gospel artist, very popular. But somehow I just felt like, he wouldn’t know who this person was, and maybe it would highlight that I’m black. [LAUGHTER] Maybe it would highlight that I’m Christian. And so I just kind of felt like those were things that perhaps I shouldn’t share with him. But as I thought about it, I thought to myself, he would have never hesitated to share with me. He’s told me about all these groups that he’s seen that I’ve never heard of a day in my life. And I’d say, yeah, OK, cool, good for you. And I never judge him because of the music that he likes and listens to. So it was a moment of, an aha moment for myself to think about like if I don’t embrace who I am, if I don’t love who I am, if I don’t share who I am, how can I expect other people to do the same?
AMANDA KERSEY: So I want to ask the hosts, I know it was challenging and really different, this approach that we took of deciding to make a show where self-disclosure, where talking about your personal lives, was a big part of it. And I want to hear how those first few weeks or months were getting used to that idea, and how you felt about opening up to your colleagues, to an audience?
NICOLE TORRES: I’ll start, because I was pretty resistant to the idea of having to talk about myself on the show. I mean, for a couple of reasons. One, like it’s not, it has never been part of my job as an editor to talk about myself very publicly. Two, the show is about like the difficult experiences that women have at work. It’s about all the frustrations that women feel, the unfairness that we have to grapple with, and those are not issues that one normally brings up with one’s bosses. And Sarah and Maureen are literally my bosses. [LAUGHTER] So you know, I was a little worried about that and how much of that to express on the show. It took a little while to figure out like how safe a space the studio really was. The other big thing I was, you know, concerned about with having to talk about myself on the show was, I was worried about playing the role of the more junior host. You know, the one with the fewest years of experience, the one asking a lot of questions about like how do I advocate for myself? How do I get credit for my work? How do I talk to my boss? I was a little worried that, you know, colleagues, authors that I work with hearing that, I was nervous about that undermining my credibility, leading people to not take me seriously or question my judgment. So I was scared about all those things. And a lot of those concerns ended up being mostly unfounded, but it was still, you know, something that I had to deal with and talk to these guys about.
SARAH GREEN CARMICHAEL: I was excited. I was excited about it. And there are probably many reasons for that. But my experiences with self-disclosure at work have been enormously positive. Some of my best friends at work are women who took a risk by opening up to me, bursting into tears or something, and then we suddenly connected. So I was kind of excited about the potential, and I think what caught me by surprise was that in some cases, questions would come up, topics would come up that were really hard to talk about, and I was kind of surprised that like suddenly, I think of myself as a very open person, but suddenly I was like, oh, well, maybe I’m not going to share that.
AMANDA KERSEY: Amy, what about you?
AMY BERNSTEIN: Yeah, so this was a tough one for me, because I don’t think of myself as being shy about my life or withholding anything, and I share openly at work that I am in a committed relationship with another woman, and have been for 23 years. And we’ve got the dogs, and it’s a great life, and I’m very happy. And maybe I have too many pictures of my family on my desk. But I found when I was sitting in front of the mic that I was not comfortable talking about that. And that has sent me on a continuing journey of soul searching. I mean, I have not pinpointed what’s going on there. I would love to talk to you about it, Kathy. [LAUGHTER] Because I bet you have some insight. But you know, when Amanda brought this up over lunch, it got pretty uncomfortable pretty fast. I remember, and I, you know, I trust you so completely and was so grateful to you for doing that, but —
AMANDA KERSEY: Well, it took me months to work up the courage to ask this question, Amy, why aren’t we hearing about —
AMY BERNSTEIN: Yeah, I know it did. So I think, I admire your courage. Because I know that wasn’t easy. So the long answer to your short question was, this was a surprising challenge for me.
AMANDA KERSEY: Kathy, do you want to add anything about how being in the minority, whether it’s race or sexuality or politics, comes into play with authenticity and self-disclosure?
KATHERINE PHILLIPS: Yeah, so when we started this research, one of the papers that we wrote, it’s called “Getting Closer at the Company Party.” And part of the idea behind the paper was that, you know, companies have these events and activities and happy hours and socializing and Christmas parties, etc., that they ask all employees to come to with the expectation that it will somehow bring people closer together, that it will create some better relationships. And so we did this research, and we asked people, well, do you go to these events? Who’s there with you? How similar are they to you? And then how close do you feel to them after the party’s over? And you do see some positive uptick, especially when people share the same identity. So when people are in the minority, or they’re very different from the other people around them, they don’t get that same uptick of positive feelings of closeness with people after they’ve engaged in these things. And they often, they were basically telling us, well, you know, I go to these events because I kind of have to. And they’re not really feeling like it’s going to lead to something different for them. And so, it turned out that when we did that research, that that was true for anybody who felt like they were surrounded by people who weren’t like them, even if they were part of a, what we might consider a majority group in the United States. But then we also did some research with African-Americans in particular to ask them, you know, kind of how comfortable would you feel sharing with or talking to people who look different from you in the workplace? And we got evidence, you know, time and time again that people were more comfortable with people who looked like themselves, that they were concerned that perhaps sharing something about themselves that was different would actually create more distance between them and the other, as opposed to creating more closeness. And they were concerned that it might have negative implications for their credibility and their status in the workplace. So it is a real kind of concern, and when I’ve written about this, I’ve actually kind of used stories from executives on Wall Street who say, you know, look, my numbers were perfect. My numbers were better than anybody else’s, but I still wasn’t getting the promotion. And when I talked to my boss about what’s going on, they said, we don’t know you. You know? And it was important for that particular person to make a decision about how much he wanted to actually connect with the other people there in the workplace. So it can have big implications, and one of the things I tell people is that companies are like babies. And if we think about our own babies, we’re really careful about who we leave our babies with. We want to know who the person is.
AMANDA KERSEY: You have another story, when you had to take a risk on what you were going to tell your colleagues. Want to pick it up from there?
KATHERINE PHILLIPS: Yeah, this story is one that, I think it was another aha moment for me, and definitely a risk that I had to decide if I wanted to take or not. So this was the situation. I’m from Chicago, born and raised, and I happened to be on the faculty at the time at Northwestern, which is up in Evanston. And my parents were still living on the South Side of Chicago with my very large extended family. I’m the sixth child of six. And I was at work, and I got a call from one my nieces saying, you need to get down here to the South Side right away, because Mom and Dad have been arrested. And I was like, what? You know, so I just, I’m like frazzled. I’m like, I’ve got to go. Quickly. And of course, my colleagues are there, and there happens to be one of the colleagues, the same colleague that asked about the party, [LAUGHTER] by the way. You know, I just, I had to leave very quickly. And so of course, when I came back to work, they were like, what happened? Is everything OK? Is everybody OK? And I had to decide if I was going to share with my colleagues at work that my parents had been arrested because one of my nephews had, you know, who knows if he had done anything wrong, but the police chased him into the bathroom of my parents’ house. And there you are. So you know, it’s like, things unfolded from there. And I decided to share it, mostly because I thought, the consequence of me either saying, this is too difficult to share with you, or lying about it, or saying, oh, it was nothing, like there was no good alternative in my opinion, that would actually be better than just telling the truth. And so I said, this was a very difficult situation. And I want to share with you guys what happened. And they were super supportive. They asked again and again how things were going? It was a year and a half before it was all over with, when it came down to going to court and all this stuff. And the reality is that like, I think it was really a bonding moment, because it gave them an opportunity to see that although I had, quote unquote, made it, you know, here I am a professor, a PhD at Northwestern University, that as an African-American woman, I was dealing with a life that they didn’t see on the other side, and that I think that actually gave them more respect for me.
AMANDA KERSEY: Because it seems like sometimes self-disclosure is something we can choose to do. We can choose to share information, and that can be strategic in trying to build relationships at work. But sometimes it happens by surprise. There might be a family emergency, or someone might ask you a question that you weren’t expecting to get. And in fact, there was a moment that happened to Nicole in season one, and what was going on in the conversation, we were talking about authenticity. We were talking about how oftentimes women are expected to be nice at work. Nicole was talking about how she sends very polite emails, tries to always be positive, to kind of win buy-in. And our guest expert, Tina Opie, interjected with a question about Nicole’s personal life. And let’s listen to that moment.
NICOLE TORRES: I think that’s, you know, internalized from growing up and not really getting to be angry or getting to show anger or even be direct, ask for things directly.
TINA OPIE: So I’m putting you on the spot, Nicole. Do you identify as Asian?
NICOLE TORRES: Mm hm.
TINA OPIE: From what country?
NICOLE TORRES: Philippines.
TINA OPIE: Oh, you speak Tagalog?
NICOLE TORRES: I do.
TINA OPIE: I was in Subic Bay.
NICOLE TORRES: Oh, cool.
TINA OPIE: So my mother makes lumpia and all that. So she knows how to cook Filipino food. She’s an amazing cook.
AMANDA KERSEY: So that was that moment. So, Nicole, what was going through your head in that moment?
NICOLE TORRES: OK, so I have been thinking about this a lot. I mean, you can hear the audio, like, I was put on the spot. I sound a little uncomfortable, kind of awkward. And I have been reflecting on why, like why that was. I wasn’t revealing anything particularly like new or surprising about myself. But you know, unlike my age or years of experience, I don’t try to downplay or hide, like I can, my ethnicity, but it is not something that I, you know, announce when I walk into a room, or when I get on the phone. I’m not like starting a meeting by, hey, I’m an Asian-American woman, and I have something to say. [LAUGHTER] That’s, you know, it’s not something that I usually walk in and then go, come forth with. I’ve found that it’s a little, for me, difficult to talk about my race and ethnicity in a pretty non-diverse environment. You know, it’s just an easy way to feel like one aspect of my identity is being called out for being different from everyone else, and it, not that I have anything against difference, or that I don’t celebrate difference, but it can feel, it’s easy to feel singled out, put on the spot, forced to talk about something about yourself that is different, and it can be easy to feel tokenized, too. So it sounds uncomfortable, and I think that’s because I was, and I’ve been thinking a little bit more about why. So, Kathy, I would love to know, am I just awkward and awful? [LAUGHTER] Or is that a fairly common experience?
KATHERINE PHILLIPS: I think it’s a very common experience. I mean, the reality is that we’re all on our own journeys of identity and how comfortable we are disclosing various things about ourselves. When we talked about this, I kind of said, you know, for me, my race, my identity is something that is very visible. And so it’s not something that I’ve ever thought about, can I possibly hide this? But I certainly have been in contexts where I might want to be careful about how much highlight it, or how much I let it take center stage, I guess you could say. And so it’s very normal for people to kind of want to belong. We all have a need for belonging, and we oftentimes have concerns that if we highlight things that are different about us, that somehow that might make us feel like we don’t belong where we are. So it’s absolutely normal.
AMANDA KERSEY: One of my roles as the producer is to draw out stories from my hosts. And it’s gotten a lot easier as I’ve gotten to know them. We have a ton of trust, I think, with each other. And have talked about boundaries over and over, and we reset boundaries sometimes. But Kathy, I’m wondering, what advice do you have for producers or people in the position of supporting others to talk about their personal lives in a professional context?
KATHERINE PHILLIPS: Yeah. So I get this question often about like, you know, what’s OK to talk about in the workplace? What’s not OK to talk about in the workplace? And I’ve been on my own personal journey with this as well. And so I try to tell people like, first of all, you kind of have to meet people where they are. Like, just because you’re really comfortable sharing some things about yourself, doesn’t necessarily mean that everybody is. And that’s OK. I actually suggest to people that if they want to set some kind of norms about this in their workplace, that the best thing to do was to model it for other people, to actually share things about yourself. So one of the things that I do whenever I’m teaching, for instance, is I take about 15, sometimes 20 minutes at the beginning of my time with a group to let them get to know who I am. I basically say, like, look, we’re all filters. We all have our own experiences and our own outlooks and our own perspectives through which we interpret life. And I’m just a filter. And I’m going to share things with you that are biased, because I’m a filter. And I’m biased in my own ways. And I think it’s important for you to know who I am, so you know who you’re learning from, so that you can take into consideration what I’m sharing with you with the bias that comes with it. And so, I actually try to model it for other people. I share with folks when I feel comfortable, and there have been times in my career where I’ve said, you know, I want to share this with you, but I don’t really want it to be common knowledge for everybody. I feel like I trust the two of you to tell this, but don’t tell everybody that my parents got arrested. OK? And so the reality, though, that I’ve learned over time is that you really do have to be comfortable yourself with whatever it is that you’re disclosing, because the fact of the matter is that once you share something with someone, it really belongs to them at that point. You know? Like, it’s information. You can certainly ask them not to share it, but the reality is, you don’t control anybody. And sometimes people have to deal with the information they have in the ways that they need to deal with that information. And so it’s kind of a tricky thing. You kind of have to really know yourself and be comfortable with whatever it is you’re sharing, and understand that not everybody will be at the same place you are.
AMANDA KERSEY: If we’re talking more strategic self-disclosure, or oversharing, where is the line? Has research found that there is a line where it is, something is just too much at work? Or there’s backlash, whatever it is? Do you have any insight to that?
KATHERINE PHILLIPS: Yeah, I mean, I think this is very idiosyncratic, and it could be different in different places. But of course, people say, don’t talk about politics. Don’t talk about religion. Those two things are kind of like off the table.
AMANDA KERSEY: Is that true?
KATHERINE PHILLIPS: I personally have not experience that to necessarily be true. I mean, it turns out that the person who is the dean of the Columbia Business School, my boss, very clearly he’s a Republican. And that’s not something that he hides. He worked in the Bush Administration. He actually feels very comfortable talking about politics. I feel less comfortable talking about politics. So I would allow him to talk about politics as much as he wanted, and I would just kind of like nod my head and say, OK, what else are we talking about? You know? And so I think some of it is really trying to know that in the environment that you’re in, there could be different norms around what’s acceptable and what’s not.
AMANDA KERSEY: Let’s talk a little bit more about oversharing. So you could overshare in a meeting or out with colleagues and immediately realize you have crossed the line, or you could realize three weeks later that you shouldn’t have said that. How do you reset boundaries in either situation?
KATHERINE PHILLIPS: Yeah, so oftentimes I will say, like in the moment, if I’ve shared something that maybe I shouldn’t have, I’ll say, oh, I might have made you feel uncomfortable by sharing that. Like, I apologize if I made you feel uncomfortable sharing that, but you know, that’s really all you can do is kind of apologize for it, and the reality is, again, like now that the information is out there, you can’t really take it back.
SARAH GREEN CARMICHAEL: Yeah, I don’t know if you can put the genie back in the bottle. I mean, something that has helped me, and I think doing the show has helped me with is just, I sort of realized I had to decide ahead of time what parts of me or my story or, you know, people at work’s story that they had shared with me, that I was going to keep private, because stuff would come up, and I’d be sort of halfway through a sentence, and then I’d be like, oh, maybe either, like another person wouldn’t want me blabbing on about this, or maybe this isn’t something I should talk about. But since a kind of person who feels like if I have to keep something, if I’m not sharing, then I feel like I’m lying. Like, if I don’t blab to you all my secrets, then I’m like, oh, I’m hiding. But that is in fact not true. It is healthy to have boundaries. And like adults to have boundaries. So thinking in advance about like where some of those guardrails were helped with the show, and I actually think has been helpful at work, too.
KATHERINE PHILLIPS: And I would say like if it’s something that happened, and you think about it three weeks later, I have found myself kind of doing the following, like send your note saying, you know, we had a great meeting. I really enjoyed talking to you. I think I might have shared something that really wasn’t mine to share. And it would be really helpful to me if you didn’t share that information further with other people. I made a mistake, and I would really appreciate if you helped me out.
SARAH GREEN CARMICHAEL: That sounds good.
AMANDA KERSEY: Do you think there is an upside to that vulnerability?
KATHERINE PHILLIPS: Absolutely.
AMANDA KERSEY: Is there more trust built after you try to repair that oversharing with somebody at work?
KATHERINE PHILLIPS: Yeah, I mean, I don’t know. It’s hard. It’s hard to know exactly the implications that it will have, because the person might think, oh, I’m not telling her anything, because she can’t keep her mouth shut. [LAUGHTER] Right? But so I think that it is, the humility that you’re expressing in that moment I think can be something that people, again, find very respectful and that they appreciate about you if they feel like you’re thoughtful enough to recognize that this is something you shared three weeks ago. Right? They probably forgot what it was. They may not even be thinking about it anymore. Yet it’s something that you felt compelled to kind of go back to them about. And so I think, you know, I think it can be helpful.
AMANDA KERSEY: We are wrapping up season two, and I am wondering, having done several episodes now of Women at Work, how you three think about self-disclosure differently, and if you’ve gotten more comfortable or learned to set boundaries differently, whatever it is?
NICOLE TORRES: I don’t think I’ve gotten more comfortable. [LAUGHTER] I mean, it’s still, like talking about yourself, self-disclosing, is a tricky thing to do, especially in a professional setting. It’s all about a balancing act, and setting boundaries. And what I’ve found is it also depends on how much trust you’ve established with someone and what kind of rapport you have. But overall, having done two seasons of the show, like I’ve learned how powerful self-disclosure can be, and not just for helping you build relationships, like the kinds that we’ve built over the last year, but also, you know, it’s been helpful in helping me find my voice, talking about myself and some of the frustrations and concerns I feel, seeing people respond to that empathetically and positively has been really validating for my own worries and insecurities and feelings. And that’s powerful. And it’s also helped me, you know, find my voice, know what to advocate for, have a better sense of what I want and what battles I can fight, where I need help. It’s been a really overall positive experience, all of the self-disclosure.
SARAH GREEN CARMICHAEL: Amy?
AMY BERNSTEIN: Oh, me.
SARAH GREEN CARMICHAEL: I’m punting to you so I have more time to think.
AMY BERNSTEIN: I like just the marching down the row thing.
AMANDA KERSEY: Amy, what about you?
AMY BERNSTEIN: Well, so I come at it from a different perspective. After our conversation, the conversation —
AMANDA KERSEY: It was a great lunch.
AMY BERNSTEIN: It was a great lunch, and it really, it woke me up. It just knocked me upside the head, and it was months ago, and I’m still thinking about it. But a couple of the epiphanies that I’ve had since that conversation, and mostly because of the work that the four of us do together, is, I’ve realized, you know, something that I, we all know this, but when you really realize something, it’s different. Which is that what you don’t say is a powerful form of communication. And I don’t want anyone to fill in, you know, I’m not Mad Libs. I don’t want people to ascribe shame or embarrassment to a part of me that I feel absolutely the opposite about. So that was a really important thing that you did for me. The other thing is, in the course of that conversation, you brought up that a younger colleague of ours, who is a lesbian, had asked why I never talk about my partner, Nanette, on the show, because I talk about her all the time at work. And that’s the part that really broke my heart. Because I would never want her, you know, I feel very protective of her, to feel that it’s not OK for her to live her full life in our office. And it made me understand that I’m a role model, which I’d never understood before. So I owe you a huge gratitude, Amanda. Thank you for bringing that up.
AMANDA KERSEY: Oh, you’re welcome. Thank you for having that conversation.
AMY BERNSTEIN: Well, I didn’t have much choice. [LAUGHTER]
AMANDA KERSEY: I guess I just put you on the spot and asked. Sarah, what about you?
SARAH GREEN CARMICHAEL: Well, I think that’s really instructive, and I think what we heard earlier with Tina Opie asking Nicole was instructive, because as someone who is like a sort of an over-sharer on most things, it’s sort of weird, but I feel really strongly that I shouldn’t pry. Like I had noticed that you had not mentioned like your background or identity, like ethnic identity, and I didn’t want to ask. I didn’t want to be like, Nicole, the listeners can’t hear that you’re Asian-American. Why don’t you say? You know, like I didn’t want to ask. I didn’t want to pry. And then I noticed that you didn’t talk about Nan. And I was like, well, that’s her business. I’m like, I’m not going to pry. But it actually, like, so I guess one of the things that I’ve been sort of wresting with is like, was really helpful that Tina asked that. It was really helpful that Amanda asked you, Amy, about that. So I was sort of like, hm, like that’s kind of my thing to mull over, is like, as someone who blabs a lot, why I was so hesitate to —
AMY BERNSTEIN: Well, it’s all your fault. [LAUGHTER]
SARAH GREEN CARMICHAEL: Just making it all about me. No. [LAUGHTER]
AMANDA KERSEY: Do we want to add anything about the impact we think that self-disclosure, telling our own stories, has had on the show and our audience?
AMY BERNSTEIN: Yeah, I think that one of the things that has worked really well is that our audience is so generous with their own stories. They will open up and share their stories freely with us, and they go deep, and it is, I mean, this is where the rubber meets the road for what we do. We can talk until the cows come home about theory, but it doesn’t matter a damn if it doesn’t make a difference in our listeners’ lives. So to hear about the kinds of struggles they are having, to be able to relate to those personally, but also theoretically, and to bring those into our own thinking and our programming, I think has been huge. And it’s because we tell stories that I think they feel they can tell stories. Right? We kind of model it. Although they do it better.
AMANDA KERSEY: We have about 15 minutes for questions. How many people, just to get a sense of this, might want to ask a question? OK, we have quite a few. OK. So there are two microphones on either side.
QUESTION: Hi. You’ve given me so much to think about, about self-disclosure, but do you all have examples or one of you, several or you, have examples of maybe where you’ve self-disclosed, and it has gone really, really badly? Not the oversharing, but maybe that disclosure, again, you lose control of the information, and I just feel like I have experienced. So I’m just wondering what you all have experienced with that.
AMY BERNSTEIN: That’s a great question.
SARAH GREEN CARMICHAEL: For me personally, not in the workplace, but it’s partly because the amazing supportive nature of our workplace. And we have a lot of people who’ve worked together for a long time. Like, I’ve definitely said things on the show that I probably shouldn’t have said. But then Amanda cuts them out. [LAUGHTER] What I really want is for Amanda to follow me along like in real life and real time, and somehow do that. [LAUGHTER]
AMANDA KERSEY: Well, that is the thing about this form of self-disclosure that we’re doing. We make a product, and it is a process. We sit together and try our ideas. But then there’s what we record. There is what I listen to and edit down. We all listen to it again. People have veto power. So there is, it’s not just the raw tape of whatever we say. And I think that makes everybody feel safer, and hopefully a little braver to experiment and try out ideas and stretch ourselves.
QUESTION: Hi, my name is Joyce. This is a topic that my friends and I talk about a lot. Not only friends, but colleagues. And I have found, and they have found that there’s a gender component to it. I think women tend to share a lot more than men do. And I was wondering, is this something you have found?
KATHERINE PHILLIPS: So the way that I studied this and tried to understand it was really not so much through a gender lens, so I had both men and women participating in this studies, and things were pretty consistent with the two of them. But I do think that the need for connection and being relationship oriented, I mean, there is some evidence that women, that there are some gender differences with respect to that. But I think the workplace is kind of a unique place, and the issues of like what’s normative and what’s OK and what’s not OK kind of applies both to men and to women. So you’re both kind of navigating how do this. And I think you’d be surprised at how much men actually do share in the workplace about all kinds of things that are happening in their lives. A mean, some of my colleagues can’t stop talking and showing me baby pictures, etc. all the time. [LAUGHTER] So I don’t, I feel woefully unprepared to talk about the gender issue on this.
AMY BERNSTEIN: Is there a generational difference that you perceive?
KATHERINE PHILLIPS: I think that in my conversations with you all, I’ve seen some generational issues. But it’s not as consistent as you might expect it to be, because when I look at you and Nicole, clearly you’re from different generations. And I think you both had your own struggles with trying to think about how to share and self-disclose. So I see it more as like an individual thing. What we know is that there’s a boundary management theory that actually talks about how people manage the boundary between their personal life and their professional life. And that they are just individual differences in what people prefer. Some people prefer to segment their personal and their professional life, and some people prefer to integrate their personal and professional life. And sometimes you might not have as much control over it as you’d like. I am very much an integrator. And one of my students that I started this research with was totally a segmenter. We both were African-American women, but there were lots of things about her, even after I worked with her for five years, that I still didn’t know, because she just preferred segmentation. And so some of it is just an individual difference that different people may have experienced in their lives. It could be from things that they learned, experiences that they had, that make them more vulnerable, and they decide they don’t want to share. But I met my husband in graduate school. We’re on the faculty together at the same university. You know, we have children together, etc. And it’s like, it’s almost impossible for — the entire academy knows [LAUGHTER] that I’m married to Damon Phillips. Right? It’s like, it’s not possible to hide it. So for me, segmenting is just a harder thing. It’s harder to segment than it is to just integrate.
QUESTION: Hi, so this is a little bit on the flip side of what you were just saying. I just changed jobs recently, and prior to that I was at a very liberal nonprofit that championed bringing your whole self to work. But I as someone who’s pretty strategic and thoughtful about what I share was supervising someone who I thought was oversharing. So, what advice would you all give to supervising someone you think might be detrimentally oversharing?
AMANDA KERSEY: Thank you.
NICOLE TORRES: Great question.
SARAH GREEN CARMICHAEL: I think this is like perfect Amy question.
AMY BERNSTEIN: Oh God. [LAUGHTER]
SARAH GREEN CARMICHAEL: I don’t know. Any time there’s like a management, what should a manager do, I’m like, Amy?
AMY BERNSTEIN: And I was just sitting back waiting for someone to be smart. [LAUGHTER] What would I do. I think there’s only so much taking care of that you can do, and then I’d also think that there are pretty fundamental differences, this is what I think you’ve been saying, Kathy, person to person about where the boundaries are, and I find it very difficult myself to set someone else’s boundaries for them. And I wouldn’t try. And I would be sensitive to someone’s trying to do it to me. So I don’t have an answer for you other than, I don’t think about it the same way you do.
SARAH GREEN CARMICHAEL: But your story did make me think, actually, of a time when I did overshare, and it was bad for my career, and a boss did say something to me that was helpful. So in that case, I had posted on Facebook, where I am friends with lots of colleagues and lots of people outside the organization, that I was like just super overwhelmed by the amount of email I was getting. And I had like, it was, I mean, it was like a minor issue, but it was like Friday night, and I had cleared my inbox, and then I got like 30 emails of people replying to me at six o’clock on a Friday, and I was just like, I just, what is this? I just can’t take this. It’s unending. And I sort of posted a version of that on Facebook, and on Monday my boss said, you know, I know you get overwhelmed by this stuff sometimes, but that does not benefit you to share that. Just close your computer and walk away. If people reading that think that you can’t handle your email, they’re not going to give you cool assignments. And I was kind of like, oh. OK. And that was hard for me to like, I had to go through some like journey of like, how much of my stress do I show, and how much do I conceal? And is there a way I could simply not feel it? Because that would be nice. [LAUGHTER] But that was a case where both, I had both sort of way overshared in a detrimental way, and also someone gave me some advice that was like, it’s in your interest to actually conceal some of that stuff.
AMANDA KERSEY: Yeah, thank you. Next question?
QUESTION: First of all, thank you for the panel. It’s been really, it’s just eye opening. But as a woman who’s about to enter the workforce, how do you manage not coming off as cold but then not oversharing? Because I’m someone who tends to overshare. So how do you strike that balance? And still be able to form relationships without going too far?
KATHERINE PHILLIPS: I think you tread lightly. I mean, I tell people all the time this one thing. Like first of all, my research does not suggest you share everything with everybody. [LAUGHTER] OK? Let me be really clear about that. That is not what it’s suggesting. It is suggesting that sometimes we have these thoughts in our head that somehow sharing this information with somebody is going to be so detrimental and hurtful, when in fact it actually is not. It actually is an opportunity to make a connection with somebody who might then invest in your more deeply, who might be more willing to mentor you and to sponsor you, who feels like they know you, and they want to see you succeed. And so it actually can be some positive things that come out of sharing some things with people. So I would just say to you that like, pay attention to the environment that you’re in. Try to understand the context. What are people sharing with you? What’s normative in this environment? So you want to try to understand that a little bit. And then you want to identify, not everybody, a few people, one person even, in that workplace that you feel like you might be able to build a deeper relationship with. That’s what mentorship and sponsorship, etc., is all about. People can’t help you if they don’t know who you are. And so again, I think it’s really important to be somewhat strategic about these things. But I tell people all the time, for instance, if there’s not one person in this workplace who’s different from you, who may in fact have some power, you know, who may in fact be part of the majority group, if there’s not one person in the entire organization that you don’t feel like you can share a little bit more about yourself with, then that’s probably not the right organization for you. Because the reality is that your ability to thrive and to grow and to develop and to learn is partially dependent on somebody investing in you. And you’ve got to find those people. So you have to kind of try it out a little bit, and take a little bit of risk, and put yourself out there with somebody, not everybody, but to try to make connections with some people. But pay attention to the environment that you’re in and what’s normative in that environment.
AMANDA KERSEY: Thank you for your question. Yes?
QUESTION: Hi. So you all have touched on this in some ways, but I just wanted to ask it in a really specific way, because I think some of the hesitation around disclosing mental health issues at work or even health issues or even, I was talking with a colleague today, pregnancy, is because we’re worried as women about the ramifications that that will have on our ability to get assignments or our ability to get promoted. I was just talking the other day at work about some mental health issues, and my immediate inclination as an over-sharer was like, oh, yeah, this doesn’t matter. And then I stepped back and thought, OK, but in some workplaces, this will really matter. And I wonder what you all hear from women about that, and what you hear from managers about that, about how they receive that information and then what they do with it after.
KATHERINE PHILLIPS: It’s definitely true that people have biases that we’re always trying to manage, and that we have to be careful about managing them, how we manage them. I have my own personal experiences around this that I’m still kind of managing through. And for me, you know, it was, again, it was important, like you’re going through something pretty major in your life, and you want to have somebody there in the workplace who kind of has your back. So for me, you know, I thought about not sharing this really important piece of information about myself for a while, and then I realized I just could not kind of really thrive in my workplace and go to work every day, and engage with people, without feeling like I was somehow lying or holding a secret that was a pretty big secret. And it turns out, one of my colleagues does research on keeping secrets. And it’s burdensome. [LAUGHTER] It actually is burdensome. It’s physically burdensome. It’s mentally burdensome. It’s cognitively burdensome. And so for me, I kind of had to share this information. I also find that you’ll be surprised, again, many times when you have a relationship with somebody in the workplace that you can kind of take that risk with, you’ll be surprised at how people have similarities with you on some of these dimensions that they might not have been willing to admit or share with someone else, and it can actually, again, bring you much closer with that person. So some of it is knowing yourself and knowing that like holding secrets is really hard. And it’s quite burdensome and can take away from your success.
SARAH GREEN CARMICHAEL: Something that certainly I have noticed is, when people don’t know what’s going on, they tend to fill in the blanks. So Amy, you referred to this earlier at Mad Libs. And so what I have tried to do is, New England winters are long, and they often affect me in a negative way. And so I have tried to notice like, if it’s January, and I’m annoyed at everyone, I’m kind of like, hm, this is probably not everyone being annoying. This is probably that it’s just January in New England. And I’m feeling a little like winter blues. And what I’ve tried to is just be proactive about that with like the most important people. So if I’m having an episode like that, I try to talk to my boss, maybe, and say, hey, I’ve been irritable lately. It’s just the winter. You know, or just some way of disclosing enough that they don’t think it’s about them or that there is some other bigger issue. But it’s hard, I mean, the thing is, you know, with pregnancy, it comes to a point where you can’t hide it anymore. So that situation tends to take care of itself. But the question of when you bring that up is, I think really depends on your boss and your company. Because in a lot of companies, you are penalized for that.
AMANDA KERSEY: Thank you. Go ahead.
QUESTION: I wanted to talk a little bit more about, I guess, emotion. I’m someone who usually tends to not share if I am upset at something in the moment, or if I’m angry, or if I’m sad. I tend to just kind of show the same emotion across the board. And I’m noticing now more that people feel more comfortable expressing those emotions. I don’t think that’s wrong. But I’m just struggling with now kind of being, I guess, part of that workforce, right, that now tends to express themselves a little bit more and say what they feel when they feel and how they feel it. So just, if you guys had any thoughts on that.
KATHERINE PHILLIPS: Part of my goal with any interaction that I’m having with someone and how much I’m self-disclosing, etc., is to control my own story. Because I don’t want people making up things about how I feel or what I think or where I’ve been or what I’ve done or whatever. Right? I don’t want people making up and filling in the blanks, because as you mentioned, they will fill in the blanks. And so some of it is self-awareness, kind of knowing yourself. If you know that you’re a person that if you start expressing your emotions you’re going to fly off the handle, then yeah, you probably should be careful about doing that, because you also are trying to maintain professionalism as well. So, but I think for me, it really is about, I want people to see me the way I see myself. And the only way that people can see me the way I see myself is if I actually express to them how I see myself and the experiences that I’m having in the way that I feel. And so it, for me, actually it’s kind of selfish. It’s like, it’s about control and power, quite frankly. And sometimes that may be wrong. Sometimes it may, you know, may have to make adjustments to that. But I have found, actually, over my career that it has really been a helpful thing for me to be willing to share my own story.
SARAH GREEN CARMICHAEL: And you can bring your best version of yourself to work without bringing necessarily —
KATHERINE PHILLIPS: Everything.
SARAH GREEN CARMICHAEL: — all of you.
KATHERINE PHILLIPS: That’s right. It’s about controlling that story. Yeah, no, I think that’s a really good way to put it.
AMANDA KERSEY: Thank you everybody for coming. Thank you to the panel and everyone who helped organize this.
AMY BERNSTEIN: Thank you, Amanda.[APPLAUSE] [END]